Perhaps someday we will learn the real extent of Osama bin Laden’s support network inside Pakistan. A truly independent investigation would begin with bin Laden’s ties to various Pakistani military and intelligence officials in the 1980s and walk forward from there. Or, if one prefers, investigators can walk the cat back from bin Laden’s suitors (if they are known) and supporters as of May 2011 to the days of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
In any event, the official Pakistani investigation into how bin Laden ended up in Abbottabad, Pakistan – just a short distance from a top military academy – is reportedly moving forward. It remains to be seen what, if any, nuggets of truth are contained in the Abbottabad Commission’s final product.
Meanwhile, a retired Pakistani army brigadier general, Shaukat Qadir, has been pursuing his own investigation, which is mired in irrational conspiracy theories.
One conspiracy theory that has gained traction centers on a rivalry between two of bin Laden’s wives. According to the New York Times, bin Laden’s “fifth and youngest wife,” Amal Ahmed al Sadah, “accused her rival of having betrayed their husband to American intelligence.” Al Sadah’s rival is Khairiah Saber, bin Laden’s first wife.
Saber did not follow bin Laden through the wilds of Pakistan to Abbottabad, but instead fled to Iran after 9/11. There, along with other members of bin Laden’s immediate family – including other wives, sons, and daughters – Saber lived until 2008. According to the Daily Mail (UK), she did not make her way to the Abbottabad compound until early 2011. It was at that point, the tale goes, that tensions between al Sadah and Saber boiled over, eventually leading to Osama bin Laden’s demise.
Saber was supposedly jealous that al Sadah received the terror master’s attention in the bedroom, while she was confined to the floor below.
Contrary to al Sadah’s account, the Daily Mail reports, Qadir “doesn’t believe Saber had any connection with the CIA, but her arrival in Abbottabad revealed to those hunting Bin Laden that he might be there.” Still other reports, Qadir says, suggest that bin Laden greeted his death with open arms in order to escape his supposed confinement and that the terror master’s minions turned him in to earn the American’s $25 million reward.
None of this passes a basic sniff test. And, of course, it contradicts the official U.S. story, in which intelligence officials traced bin Laden to Abbottabad by following his preferred courier, Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti.
American intelligence officials found that al Kuwaiti had been in contact with members of Harakat ul Mujahedin (HUM), a terrorist organization long sponsored by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID). HUM, a creation of the ISID, has extensive, longstanding ties to al Qaeda. Citing American intelligence officials, the New York Times previously reported that the “discovery” of al Kuwaiti’s links to HUM “indicates that Bin Laden used” HUM “as part of his support network inside the country.”
That is a far more intriguing lead for Qadir and the Abbottabad Commission to follow. It raises the possibility that the ISID, or elements thereof, was complicit in hiding bin Laden – working with HUM to accomplish the task. We do not know the full extent of that story. But it is a natural starting point for any exhaustive investigation.
The chances that this lead will receive the proper amount of attention are slim, however.
And while we are on the subject of how to properly investigate bin Laden’s support network inside Pakistan, a related topic comes to mind. Recall that bin Laden’s older wife, Khairiah Saber, moved to Iran after 9/11 along with numerous other members of the al Qaeda CEO’s family. Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s second in command and current al Qaeda emir, also sent members of his immediate family to Iran for safekeeping.
While the Iranians eventually placed members of bin Laden’s family under a loose form of “house arrest,” they still went on shopping trips, communicated abroad, and in at least some cases remained active in terrorist plotting.
The story of Saad bin Laden, one of Osama’s sons, provides a good example.
The Treasury Department reported in January 2009 that Saad “has been involved in al Qaeda activities.” Treasury’s designation continued: “For example, in late 2001, Saad facilitated the travel of Osama bin Laden's family members from Afghanistan to Iran. Saad made key decisions for al Qaeda and was part of a small group of al Qaeda members that was involved in managing the terrorist organization from Iran.”
Saad was placed under house arrest by the Iranians in 2003 – a year and a half after he and other bin Laden family members first relocated to Iran. Before his alleged detention, Saad was connected to international terrorist plots, including the May 2003 Riyadh bombings, which were reportedly ordered by al Qaeda operatives from inside Iran. Like Saber, Saad (whose mother is another of bin Laden’s wives) left Iran in 2008. He was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2009.
Therefore, a proper investigation of bin Laden’s journey to Abbottabad would include not only the al Qaeda master’s ties to Pakistani officials, but also his ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other members of Iran’s military and intelligence establishment.
Just as it is no accident that Osama bin Laden ended up in Abbottabad, it was no accident that he sent so many close relatives to Iran. Once there, the IRGC allowed bin Laden’s family members, including those involved in al Qaeda’s plotting, to escape justice.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.