Bin Laden issues fresh threat to U.S.

Exiled al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, threatened in a new audio recording released on Thursday to kill any captured Americans if the U.S. executes the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qaeda suspects.

The U.S. is still considering whether to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his fellow plotters on military tribunal for their role in the September 11 attacks. The Obama administration is also looking into recommendations for civilian trials, and is expected to announce a decision soon.

In a brief 74-second audio tape aired on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden said if the U.S. decides to execute any al-Qaeda suspects in its custody — and explicitly mentioned Mohammed — his terror network would kill American captives.

The terror leader said such a decision “would mean the U.S. has issued a death sentence against whoever of you becomes a prisoner in our hands.”

It was not immediately clear whether al-Qaeda currently has any U.S. captives, but the Haqqani group – the Pakistan-based Taliban faction closest to al-Qaeda — is holding an American soldier it captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. It released a video of him in December.

Bin Laden said U.S. President Barack Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush by escalating the war in Afghanistan, being “unjust” to al-Qaeda prisoners and supporting Israel in its occupation of Palestinian land.

In a veiled threat, bin Laden said Americans had previously thought their homeland was beyond the reach of his group until the 9/11 attack.

Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, is the most senior al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, and is currently in detention at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2008, the U.S. charged him with murder and war crimes in connection with the September 11 attacks. Pentagon officials have said they’ll seek the death penalty.

Osama, deputy hiding in Pak: CIA

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believes Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are inside Pakistan though it does not know precisely where.

The agency officials believe the two are hiding, “either in the northern tribal areas or in North Waziristan, or somewhere in that vicinity,” CIA Director Leon Panetta told The Washington Post in an interview published on Thursday.

While there have been no confirmed sightings of either man since 2003, the continued pressure on Al Qaeda increases the opportunities for catching one or both, he said.

Relentless attacks against Al Qaeda in the Pakistan tribal region appear to have driven bin Laden and other top leaders deeper into hiding, leaving the organization rudderless and less capable of planning sophisticated operations, Panetta told the Post.

So profound is Al Qaeda’s disarray that one of its lieutenants, in a recently intercepted message, pleaded to bin Laden to come to the group’s rescue and provide some leadership, Panetta claimed.

In what the post called a near-acknowledgement of the CIA’s war against extremists in Pakistan, Panetta credited an increasingly aggressive campaign against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, including more frequent strikes and better coordination with Pakistan.

Calling it “the most aggressive operation that CIA has been involved in in our history,” he said, “Those operations are seriously disrupting Al Qaeda.”

“It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run.”

Panetta also cited recent arrests of top Taliban figures-mostly notably Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, captured in Karachi on Feb 8, as tangible evidence of improving ties with Pakistan’s intelligence service. He told the Post Pakistan had given the CIA access to Baradar since his capture, and added, “we’re getting intelligence” from the interrogation.

Panetta acknowledged that Al Qaeda was continuing to look for ways to kill Americans and was specifically seeking to recruit people who lacked criminal records or known ties to terrorist groups to carry out missions.

Still, the CIA under the Obama administration is “without question putting tremendous pressure on their operation,” Panetta said.

“The president gave us the mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and their military allies and I think that’s what we are trying to do.”

Bin Laden takes credit for Christmas Day attempt

Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden issued a new audio message claiming responsibility for the Christmas day bombing attempt in Detroit and vowed further attacks.

In a recording carried by the Al-Jazeera Arabic news channel, Bin Laden addressed U.S. President Barak Obama saying the attack was a message like that of September 11 and more attacks against the U.S. would be forthcoming.

“The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes of the September 11,” he said.

“America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine,” he added. “God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support to the Israelis will continue.”

On Christmas Day, Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attemped to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight he was sitting on as it approached Detroit Metro Airport. But the bomb he was hiding in his underwear failed to explode.

Abdulmutallab told federal agents shortly afterward that he had been trained and instructed in the plot by Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.

There was no way to confirm the voice was actually that of Bin Laden, but it resembled previous recordings attributed to him.

Osama, Zawahiri hiding in north-western Pak, says US report

Nine years after their mysterious disappearance following the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. still believes the two top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are in hiding in north-western Pakistan.

According to the latest report on al-Qaeda and its expanding network by a powerful Congressional committee, the two leaders are hiding in tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Senate Committee’s views are in variance with those of Pakistani leaders, who believe Osama might well be dead.

In a major observation, the report said al-Qaeda appears to have increased its influence among the myriad Islamist militant groups operating along the Af-Pak border.

The 21-page report by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations examines the role of al-Qaeda in international terrorism and its expansion in new areas — Yemen and Somalia — beyond its nerve-centre in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

U.S. officials remain concerned that al-Qaeda militants maintain bases and training camps in Pakistan.

“Laden and Zawahiri are believed to be hiding in north-western Pakistan along with most other senior operatives. Al-Qaeda leaders have issued statements encouraging Pakistani Muslims to ‘resist’ American ‘occupiers’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to fight against Pakistan’s U.S.-allied politicians and officers,” the report released by Senator John Kerry, the Committee’s Chairman said.

A 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on terrorist threats to the U.S. concluded that al-Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability, including a safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, operational lieutenants and its top leadership.”

The report prepared by the Majority Staff of the Senate Committee said Islamabad reportedly has remanded to U.S. custody roughly 500 al-Qaeda fighters since 2001, including several senior operatives.

U.S. officials say that drone-launched U.S. missile attacks and Pakistan’s pressing of military offensives against extremist groups in the border areas have meaningfully disrupted al-Qaeda activities there while inflicting heavy human losses.

The August death of al-Qaeda-allied Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, reportedly caused by a U.S.-launched missile, may have thrown Islamist militants in western Pakistan into disarray.

“Some analysts worry, however, that successful military operations are driving al-Qaeda fighters into Pakistani cities where they will be harder to target and, fuelling already significant anti-American sentiments among the Pakistani people,” it said.

“The Pakistani military has conducted successful counter-insurgency campaigns to wrest two parts of the country from Pakistani Taliban control, the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. Still militants continue to use some of the rugged tribal areas as bases of operations,” the report said.

Hillary scolds Pak over inaction on Al-Qaida

US Secretay of State Hillary Clinton. A File photo: AP


US Secretay of State Hillary Clinton. A File photo: AP

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chided Pakistani officials on Thursday for failing to press the hunt for Al-Qaida inside their borders, suggesting they know where the terror leaders are hiding.

American officials have long said that Al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and senior lieutenants of the network accused in the Sept. 11 attacks operate out of the rugged terrain along the border with Afghanistan.

But Ms. Clinton’s unusually blunt comments went further in asserting that Pakistan’s government has done too little about it.

“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,” Ms. Clinton said in an interview with Pakistani journalists in Lahore. “Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.”

There was no immediate reaction from Pakistani officials, but the thrust of Ms. Clinton’s comments were startling, coming after months of lavish public comments from her and other American officials portraying Pakistan’s leaders as finally receptive to the war against militants inside their own country.

As a political spouse, career public official and recently as a diplomat, Ms. Clinton has long showed a tendency toward bluntness, sometimes followed by a softening of her comments. But her remarks about Pakistan’s lack of action against Al-Qaida comes at a particularly sensitive moment – amid a major Pakistani offensive against militants and a deadly spate of insurgent violence.

Ms. Clinton on Friday was wrapping up her three-day visit to Pakistan with a series of interviews with Pakistani journalists – including a session with women journalists that was to be broadcast live – and talks with leaders of Parliament. Then she was to fly to the Persian Gulf city of Abu Dhabi for meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to be followed over the weekend by a meeting in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With Pakistan reeling from Wednesday’s devastating bombing that killed more than 100 people in Peshawar, Ms. Clinton also engaged in an intense give-and-take with students at the Government College of Lahore. She insisted that inaction by the government would have ceded ground to terrorists.

“If you want to see your territory shrink, that’s your choice,” she said, adding that she believed it would be a bad choice.

Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters that Ms. Clinton planned to meet late Thursday with the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to get an update on the offensive that began Oct. 17 against Taliban forces in a portion of the tribal areas near the Afghan border.

“We want to encourage them,” Mr. Holbrooke said of the Pakistanis. “She wants to get a firsthand account of the military situation.”

During her exchange with the Pakistani journalists, one reporter asked Ms. Clinton why the fight against terrorism seemed to put Pakistan at the center and why other countries couldn’t do more. Ms. Clinton noted that Al-Qaida has launched attacks on Indonesia, the Philippines and many other countries over the years.

“So the world has an interest in seeing the capture and killing of the people who are the masterminds of this terrorist syndicate. As far as we know, they are in Pakistan.”

On Ms. Clinton’s flight to Islamabad after the interview with Pakistani journalists, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said Ms. Clinton’s remarks approximate what the Obama administration has told Pakistani officials in private.

“We often say, `Yes, there needs to be more focus on finding these leaders,”’ Ms. Patterson said. “The other thing is, they lost control of much of this territory in recent years, and that’s why they’re in South Waziristan right now.”

In Lahore, dozens of students rushed to line up for the microphone when the session with Ms. Clinton began. Their questions were not hostile, but showed a strong sense of doubt that the U.S. could be a reliable and trusted partner for Pakistan.

One woman asked whether the U.S. could be expected to commit long term in Afghanistan after abandoning the country after Russian occupiers retreated in 1989.

“What guarantee,” the woman asked, “can Americans give Pakistan that we can now trust you – not you but, like, the Americans this time – of your sincerity and that you guys are not going to betray us like the Americans did in the past when they wanted to destabilize the Russians?”

Ms. Clinton responded that the question was a “fair criticism” and that the U.S. did not follow through in the way it should have. “It’s difficult to go forward if we’re always looking in the rearview mirror,” said Ms. Clinton, on the second of a three—day visit, her first to Pakistan as Secretary of State.

The Peshawar bombing in a market crowded with women and children appeared timed to overshadow her arrival. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since 2007.

She likened Pakistan’s situation – with Taliban forces taking over substantial swaths of land in the Swat valley and in areas along the Afghan border – to a theoretical advance of terrorists into the United States from across the Canadian border.

It would be unthinkable, she said, for the U.S. government to decide, “Let them have Washington (state)” first, then Montana, then the sparsely populated Dakotas, because those states are far from the major centers of population and power on the East Coast.

Ms. Clinton was responding to a student who suggested that Washington was forcing Pakistan to use military force on its own territory.

During her hour-long appearance at the college, Ms. Clinton stressed that a key purpose of her trip was to reach out to ordinary Pakistanis and urge a better effort to bridge differences and improve mutual understanding.

But her tough comments about Pakistan’s will to take on Al-Qaida leaders might not sit well among Pakistanis who long have complained about American demands on their country.

Ms. Clinton has ruffled feathers before with blunt comments during international trips. On her first visit to Asia in February, she discussed the possibility of a succession crisis in North Korea and suggested the U.S. would not press China that hard on human rights.

On a later trip, she drew criticism from Israeli leaders for talking about a “defense umbrella” for Arab Gulf states to protect them from a potential nuclear threat from Iran.

Despite her comments during the town hall event in Lahore, Ms. Clinton declined to touch on the sensitive issue of missile attacks from U.S. drones against militants inside Pakistan.

The subject has stirred some of the strongest feelings of anti-Americanism in the country, but the U.S. routinely refuses to acknowledge publicly that the attacks are taking place.

“There is a war going on,” Ms. Clinton said, adding only that the U.S. wants to help Pakistan be successful.

The United States has provided Pakistani commanders with video images and target information from its military drones as the army pushes its ground offensive in Waziristan, U.S. officials said this week.

The U.S. in recent months has rushed helicopters and other military equipment to the country as Islamabad began offensives.

“We’ve put military assistance to Pakistan on a wartime footing,” Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Thursday.