Al-Qaeda training centres

Daily Times, June 16, 2005
Al Qaeda has major training facility inside Pakistan, says Newsweek
Daily Times Monitor

LAHORE: The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into a suspected Islamic jihad group in California produced evidence that Al Qaeda may have reconstituted a major terrorist training camp inside Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks, said Newsweek.

Newsweek said that an FBI affidavit released in connection with the arrests of US citizen Hamid Hayat (24) and his father Umer Hayat (47), asserts that Al Qaeda was still capable of operating a significant training facility inside Pakistan. The two men are accused of lying to the FBI about a two-year trip that Hamid made to Pakistan between April 2003 and 2005. Released on Tuesday night, the affidavit says that Hamid told FBI agents he spent six months at an Al Qaeda-backed training camp in Pakistan, where he saw “hundreds of people from all over the world.” He described the camp as a facility that provided “structured paramilitary training,” including training in weapons, explosives and hand-to-hand combat, adding that photos of US President Bush and other high-ranking US political figures were “pasted on targets.”

According to Newsweek, the affidavit does not place where the terror camp was situated or how long US officials have known about its existence. An FBI spokesman said on Wednesday that all such details were classified. However, last year the US Department of Homeland Security directed customs agents to inspect all Pakistani descent travellers for rope burns, unusual bruises and scars, which might signify the traveller spent time in an Islamic militant training camp. The Pakistani Embassy in Washington did not return Newsweek’s phone calls for comment, but last year the mission’s deputy chief Mohammed Sadiq told the Los Angeles Times that the Homeland Security warning was “not only unfortunate, but based on ignorance.”

The evidence of a large Al Qaeda training camp, if confirmed, could prove diplomatically and politically embarrassing, said Newsweek, adding that the State Department’s annual counter-terrorism report released last month had praised President Pervez Musharraf’s government for aggressively pursuing Al Qaeda, singling out in particular last year’s Pakistan Army raids on Al Qaeda “safe havens” in South Waziristan. The report makes no reference to any suspected Al Qaeda training camps in the country.

However, New York-based counter-terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann told Newsweek that the US counter-terrorism community has actually known about the existence of such training camps in Waziristan for some time. A senior US counter-terrorism official, asking not to be named, told Newsweek that US intelligence agencies had information indicating that after 9/11, Al Qaeda forces driven out of Afghanistan had established “sanctuaries” in South Waziristan’s remote Shakai area.

The official said the Pakistani military raids last year were designed to “flush out” and destroy such camps and US officials believe the initiative successfully routed Al Qaeda forces out of the area. Newsweek said the affidavit asserted that Hamid had been on the Department of Homeland Security’s “no fly” list when he boarded an airplane in Korea on his way back from Pakistan two weeks ago. However, it does not say why Hamid was on the list. The affidavit says that when US authorities realised Hamid was on the plane, they diverted it to Japan, where he was interviewed by an FBI agent, and then downgraded to a “Selectee List,” that prompts close scrutiny of travellers but does not prohibit them from flying into the country.

Hamid voluntarily agreed to be questioned by the FBI on June 4 and also agreed to take a polygraph, said Newsweek. The polygraph examiner concluded Hamid was being deceptive. After two hours of questioning, Hamid broke down and “admitted that he had attended a jihadist training camp in Pakistan.” He further told the FBI that at the camp, attendees were asked to choose the country in which they wanted to carry out their jihad mission—with the choices including the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and other countries.

Newsweek said that after being shown a video of his son’s confession, Umer Hayat confirmed that his son had attended such a camp and also admitted that he provided his son an allowance of US$100 per month, knowing that his intention was to attend a jiahdi training camp.

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