A new FBI terrorism case provides a rare nugget of intelligence about Osama bin Laden: the Al Qaeda leader is alive, well, and personally “giving the orders” for the terror group’s operations, according to comments made by an alleged American Al Qaeda operative on a secret bureau recording.
The bureau’s case against the alleged operative, a Chicago cab driver named Raja Lharsib Khan, has so far gotten little attention. This is likely because there is no evidence that the cabbie’s alleged discussions about blowing up an American stadium with remote-control bombs this summer (secretly recorded by the FBI) had progressed beyond the talking stage. But contained in court documents made public shortly after Khan’s arrest on terrorism charges last Friday were some unexpected revelations about Al Qaeda's No. 1 leader.
Khan, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was able to travel back and forth to his native Pakistan in recent years and meet near the Afghanistan border with Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of a Sunni extremist group that is closely linked to Al Qaeda, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court in connection with Khan's arrest.
Moreover, Khan told an undercover FBI agent about talks he had with Kashmiri (whom he called “Lala”) that took place in 2008 and concerned the activities of bin Laden.
Contrary to some intelligence reports in recent years, bin Laden was not ill nor was he isolated from his followers, according to the conversation that was secretly recorded between Khan and an undercover FBI agent at a Chicago coffee shop on Feb. 23. Instead, the Al Qaeda leader continues to be very much in charge of his organization and is personally directing terrorist operations, according to excerpts of the conversation that are recounted in the FBI affidavit. “I asked the Lala about him,” Khan said about bin Laden while describing his talks with Kashmiri. “And he says … he’s perfect, healthy, and he’s leading and he’s giving the orders … he’s OK, he’s in safe hands.”
At a later recorded conversation on March 12 between the undercover informant and Khan, the talk returned again to what Kashmiri had told Khan during the same 2008 meeting the two men had had in Miranshah in northwest Pakistan. Bin Laden is “commanding everythings [sic],” Khan said Kashmiri had told him, according to the FBI affidavit. "He’s commanding, he’s giving orders.”
“Does he give orders to Kashmiri?” the FBI informant asked Khan.
“Just, yeah, to Kashmiri, then Kashmiri give [sic] the order to mujahideen …”
It is impossible to evaluate the credibility of Khan’s comments about what Kashmiri told him based on the FBI’s evidence. And it is worth noting that Khan concedes on the tapes that he never personally met bin Laden during his trips to northwest Pakistan.
Still, it is rare for the bureau to obtain and make public even secondhand comments about bin Laden’s activities in its investigations. Moreover, the FBI affidavit in support of Khan’s arrest cites documents and other evidence showing that the taxi driver had indeed traveled to Pakistan in 2008 and 2009. Khan also had references to Kashmiri in his address book (which was examined and photographed by U.S. border-control agents) and sent a wire transfer of $950 to an alleged associate of Kashmiri’s last November, directing that portions of the funds go to Kashmiri, according to the FBI affidavit.
Robert D. Grant, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Chicago, made a point of citing the case against Khan as one of a number of domestic terrorism cases in the past six months that have yielded “significant intelligence.”
Khan did not enter a plea during an appearance in federal court on Friday after being charged on two courts of providing material support to Al Qaeda. He is expected to be appointed a federal defender to represent him early this week.
The FBI’s case against Khan is completely separate from another high-profile case out of Chicago that last week produced a guilty plea by Dennis Headley, another U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin, and also involved Kashmiri, according to federal law-enforcement officials. Headley has admitted performing scouting operations for the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, as well as plotting with Kashmiri (who is also indicted in that case) to attack a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. (The plot included a plan to behead some of the paper’s employees.)
If nothing else, the case against Khan shows yet again that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are still managing to find American recruits. And it underscores the role of Kashmiri as one of the most ruthless and dangerous of terrorist figures in Pakistan.
As Declassified reported last fall, Kashmiri was widely reported to have been killed by a U.S. missile strike last September. But no sooner were those reports published than Kashmiri reemerged and told a reporter for Asia On Line that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were “nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future” and that he had joined with Al Qaeda because “we were both victims of the same tyrant. Today, the entire Muslim world is sick of Americans and that’s why they are agreeing with Sheikh Osama.”