Goes with the terrortory

"Goes with the terrortory" Continued...

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

The pressure hard-line Muslim groups are exerting within the government has made it harder for Westerners to receive visas to work in Pakistan. And Pakistan's brutal anti-blasphemy laws-which make it a capital crime to insult Islam-put a damper on non-Muslim workers who fear that even casual religious expressions could become grounds for prosecution.

The closer you look at Abbottabad, the more striking a safe haven it appears to have been for bin Laden. Less than 40 miles (but a two-hour drive) from the capital, Islamabad, the city lies at about 4,000 feet in elevation with nearby foothills climbing quickly to over 8,000 feet. With fertile ground irrigated by mountain streams, hills have gradually been tilled into plains for crops. Moderate weather is another reason the military located not only its prestigious academy but other installations around Abbottabad. Not to mention that it's a gateway for all commerce with China. Pakistan increasingly sees China as its chief ally, and the Karakoram Highway cuts through the city center, the last commercial hub in the country, before heading quickly into the desolate north and all the way to the Chinese border.

In addition to military convoys, the roads are frequently clogged with tractors, donkey carts, trucks weighed down with produce, men on bikes, and locals shepherding animals across the road. High-walled compounds like the one where bin Laden likely lived for the last five or more years front the road nearing the city center, where there is a KFC, a movie theater, and large retail stores.

"The military presence has made the economy boom," said the medical worker, who made regular trips to Abbottabad. With the general cosmopolitan feel of the place, less conservative than surrounding areas, he said, "It never entered my mind that one of those high-walled compounds was harboring Osama."

Or that in this pacific setting bin Laden was hoping to plan the next 9/11. Records recovered by the United States are showing that bin Laden was in regular communication from his walled compound with al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and elsewhere, exchanging messages via dozens of thumb drives recovered by the U.S. Navy SEAL team that broke into the compound May 2 and shot him. In a handwritten journal bin Laden charted ideas for mass attacks along the scale of the 2001 attacks on the United States and suggested ways to choose effective targets, including trains along with airplanes. The journal and other documents discussed launching attacks in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, according to unnamed U.S. officials who spoke to the Associated Press.

In the weeks since, those findings are prompting investigators and counterterrorism officers to scramble all the more to learn about the terrorist mastermind's time in Abbottabad, how, why-and under whose protection-he found safe haven there. "Today, the United States cannot accept a situation in which al-Qaeda and its local allies have a sanctuary to plan and train for terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland," said Seth G. Jones, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, who testified about the future U.S. role in the region at May 10 hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill.

Sanctuary granted by Islamic states sympathetic to al-Qaeda's mission made it possible for bin Laden to direct well-known terror plots. In Sudan between 1991 and 1997 bin Laden planned the simultaneous attacks on U.S. embassies launched in 1998 in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He also made plans for what turned out to be the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, and there planned the attacks of 9/11. Jones points out that bin Laden moved from Tora Bora, his mountain enclave, to Kandahar in the late 1990s, the headquarters of the Taliban. Similarly, he kept a base in Khartoum that was close to Sudan's National Islamic Front government. That raises an obvious question: Did bin Laden's residence in Abbottabad indicate patronage from Pakistan's nearby military?

While in Pakistan, bin Laden likely planned the 2004 Madrid bombing that killed 191 and wounded over 1,800; the 2005 London subway bombings that killed 52 and injured 700; and the foiled 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot that involved using liquid explosives to blow up U.S.-bound planes.

All that time, Pakistan's top leaders repeatedly denied that the al-Qaeda leader had made a home in their country. In 2008 then-President Musharraf told CBS: "We are not particularly looking for him, but we are operating against terrorists and al-Qaeda and militant Taliban."


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