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Rediff.com  » News » Mystery shrouds top terrorist's death

Mystery shrouds top terrorist's death

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December 05, 2005 21:19 IST
The reported killing of Abu Hamza Rabia, said to be a senior Al Qaeda leader, in Pakistan is mired in contradictions.

The first reference to Abu Hamza Rabia was made by Pakistani authorities on August 17, 2004, after they had announced rewards totalling $ 1 million for anyone helping in the capture or killing of six terrorists.

The top two positions in the list were occupied by Abu Faraj al-Libbi and Amjad Hussain Farooqui, each of whom carried a reward offer of US $ 340,000.

Abu Faraj, alias Dr Taufeeq, a Libyan, was described by them as the operational chief of Al Qaeda since the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) at Rawalpindi in March, 2003, and as the No 3 in Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri.

He was subsequently arrested and handed over to the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials in May this year, while Amjad Hussain was allegedly killed in an encounter by the Pakistani security forces at Nawabshah in southern Sind in September last year.

Apart from Abu Faraj, the other five figuring in the list were Pakistani nationals and were described as belonging to pro-Al Qaeda Pakistani jihadi terrorist organizations -- namely the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). It was alleged that Abu Faraj and Amjad Hussain played a leading role in the two unsuccessful attempts to kill President General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003.

The Pakistani officials also stated that they were not aware of the involvement of Abu Faraj in any act of jihadi terrorism outside the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. They were unable to explain why they projected him as the international operational head of Al Qaeda when there was no evidence of his role in any terrorist strike outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

While no reward was offered for information leading to the capture or killing of Abu Hamza Rabia, an official of the Pakistani Government said: "Faraj heads the international operational wing of al-Qaeda, with the help of an Egyptian accomplice, Abu Hamza Rabia."

A CIA drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, had attacked a house in North Waziristan on November 5 after receiving information that Abu Hamza Rabia was staying there with his wife and children. While his wife and children were reportedly killed in the attack, Rabia managed to escape with a broken leg. Since then he had been fleeing from village to village in order to escape another attack.

On the night of December 1, another unmanned drone of the CIA fired a missile at a house at Haisori village, about 30 km from the Afghanistan border in the North Waziristan area, after receiving information that Abu Hamza Rabia was spending the night there.

Intercepted messages exchanged by the terrorists after the strike allegedly indicated that five persons died in that attack. One of them was referred to as Nawab. According to the Pakistani authorities, Nawab was one of the aliases of Abu Hamza Rabia.

Musharraf, who was then on a visit to Kuwait, told journalists on December 3 that he was 200 per cent certain that Rabia was one of the five killed. Subsequently, he said he was 500 per cent certain about the identity.

US drones have operated in the area in the past. In May a drone missile attack was reported to have killed Al Qaeda bomb-maker Haitham al-Yemeni in North Waziristan.

Of the five claimed to have been killed on December 1, the bodies of only two have been found---both children related to the owner of the house which was attacked by the drone. The bereaved father has strongly denied that Rabia or any other foreigner was staying in his house as alleged by the Pakistani authorities, and claimed there were no other casualties.

Reuters news agency has quoted Haji Mohammad Siddiq, the owner of the house attacked by the drone, as saying that his 17-year-old son and an eight-year-old nephew were killed in a missile attack, but denied that there were any militants present.

"I don't know anything about them – there were no foreigners in my house," Siddiq said. "I have nothing to do with foreigners or Al Qaeda. We were sleeping when I heard two explosions in my guest room. When I went there I saw that my son, Abdul Wasit, and my eight-year-old nephew, Noor Aziz, were dead."

The Pakistani authorities have not admitted the role of the CIA's drone aircraft in the operation. They have projected the death of Rabia as due to an accidental explosion in the house, where, according to them, explosives were being stored.

While junior US officials based in Afghanistan have been concurring with the Pakistani claim that Rabia was believed to have been killed and projecting him as the head of the international operational wing of Al Qaeda since the capture of Abu Faraj in May, senior US officials in Washington DC have been more guarded in their comments in view of the fact that no body has been found .

An unamed junior US official has been quoted as saying: "Rabia, in his 30s, took over the number three spot, behind bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, after the capture of Abu Faraj in Pakistan in May. Rabia was involved in plots to attack the US and his death was a serious blow for Al Qaeda. Rabia served in the leadership group as chief of international operations planning. His international portfolio included planning attacks against the United States."

Pakistan: 34 wanted militants surrender

But in an interview to the Fox News TV Channel on December 4, American National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said:" The US is not in a position to confirm Rabia's death. We have seen those reports out of Pakistan. Obviously, we're looking into them. At this point, we are not in a position publicly to confirm that he is dead. Rabia was involved in planning two assassination plots against Musharraf. If he has been killed, that's a good thing for the war on terror. Hamza Rabia is a bad guy."

He told CNN that there were "conflicting reports" as to what might have happened to Rabia, and said he would leave it to Pakistani officials to provide details. But any intelligence operation against a senior member of Al Qaeda would not be an assassination, he argued. "This is law enforcement, this is not assassination. This is going against the leadership of an organisation that has declared war on the United States."

Asked about reports that a US drone had launched the missile attack, Hadley said the United States had helped Pakistan by providing intelligence and cooperating with the Pakistani forces. Pakistani intelligence officials said US assistance played a critical role in tracking down Rabia and "eliminating the threat" that he posed.

While Pakistani officials, including Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Pakistani Minister for Information, are now saying that Rabia was also involved in the two attempts of December 2003, to kill Musharraf, they had not mentioned this in the past.

No explanation has been forthcoming from US officials as to why no reward had been offered for his capture or killing either by the FBI or the Pakistani intelligence if he was really that important in the Al Qaeda hierarchy as now made out to be.

'We have broken terrorist outfits'

According to some reports, while the FBI did not believe that Abu Faraj and Rabia were that highly placed in Al Qaeda, the CIA rated both of them as among the top planners of Al Qaeda.

On December 3, the Al-Arabiya Television said it had been contacted by a person claiming to be from Al Qaeda, who denied that Rabia was dead. "An official from the Al Qaeda group has denied, in a telephone conversation with the Al-Arabiya channel, that Hamza Rabia has been killed," a presenter on the Arab satellite channel told viewers. Five people were killed in the explosion, but they were two local men, two Tajiks and an Arab named Suleiman al-Moghrabi, the caller claimed.

The only fragmentary personal detail of Rabia known in the past was that he was an Egyptian in his 30s who was among those trained by Midhat Mursi alias Abu Khabab, another Egyptian, in a camp run by him in Afghan territory before 9/11 to do research and development on chemical and biological weapons, particularly toxins.

However, the fact of Rabia having been a member of the WMD R&D wing of Abu Khabab in the past was not highlighted by the Pakistani authorities in their media briefing.

The claim regarding the death of Rabia has come a month after speculation regarding the killing of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Syrian, in an incident near Quetta. He was described as a former trainer in Abu Khabab's training camp. However, the news of his death has not been confirmed so far.

More reports from Pakistan

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