Tags: FBI | Turning | Heat | al-Qaida

FBI Turning Up Heat on al-Qaida

Thursday, 05 June 2003 12:00 AM

The plan includes speeding up efforts to catch Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders believed to be hiding in a tribal zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the sources said.

The FBI already has an extensive presence in both the Middle East and South Asia, but is now trying to expand its network with the help of regional intelligence agencies.

Currently, the intelligence gathering is mostly done by regional intelligence agencies while FBI agents sift through this information and guide their local allies for conducting anti-terrorism operations.

But if new plans were implemented, the sources said, the FBI would be more directly involved in both intelligence gathering and field operations.

In a recent visit to the region, the FBI director is supposed to have discussed these plans with the Saudi, Yemeni, Pakistani and Afghan officials, the sources said.

They said that these four countries would play a key role in Washington's decision to turn up the heat on al-Qaida taken after last month's terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia that left 34 people, including nine Americans, dead.

Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is a Saudi national and is still believed to have many supporters in the oil-rich kingdom. His family originated from Yemen where al-Qaida has a strong support too.

Al-Qaida is also blamed for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole near Yemen that killed 17 American sailors.

And Pakistan's tribal areas are believed to have sheltered many al-Qaida leaders, possibly including bin Laden, after the fall of the group's Taliban patron in Afghanistan in December 2001.

Mueller, who was in Pakistan on Tuesday, is believed to have reached an understanding with Islamabad for actively pursuing Taliban operatives and their sympathizers in the long tribal zone that borders Afghanistan.

The FBI, the sources said, wants to set up a permanent intelligence system in this area, allowing it to monitor both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The agency already has several field offices in the two countries.

Once the new plans are implemented, the sources said, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies would be able to conduct joint patrolling on the Pakistan-Afghan border. When asked to comment on these reports, a government spokesman in Islamabad told reporters earlier this week that Pakistan did not accept the proposal for joint patrolling. But diplomatic sources in Washington told UPI that the denial was "for local consumption," and that the Pakistani authorities have already agreed to participate in the U.S. plan.

The sources said that U.S. and Pakistani troops are already working jointly in anti-terrorism operations across Pakistan and Pakistani law enforcement agencies should have no problem in arranging joint patrol with FBI officials either.

They said that Pakistan is also interested in getting technical support from FBI to improve its intelligence system and capacity.

Pakistan has arrested almost 500 al-Qaida suspects since 9-11 and handed 346 of them over to the United States, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But despite this cooperation, the FBI believes that regional intelligence agencies, particularly in Pakistan and Yemen, can do a much better job, the sources said.

In Pakistan, the FBI is believed to have offered to equip anti-terrorism cells in the Intelligence Bureau and the Federal Intelligence Agency, the country's two major civil agencies.

The FBI, the sources said, may soon send a team of experts to Pakistan to train officials from these two agencies. The U.S. agency is already cooperating with the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's main military intelligence outfit.

The United States is also believed to have offered military equipment for patrolling the Pakistan-Afghan border to prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan by al-Qaida operatives and their supporters.

Pakistan is expected to get UH-II utility helicopters, AH-I attack helicopters, VHF/UHF aircraft radio sets, T-37 flight training aircraft, AN/FPS-117 surveillance radars, E-2C warning and control aircraft, Bell 407 reconnaissance helicopters and I-GNAT unmanned aerial vehicles for this purpose, the sources said.

Pakistan is also asking for upgrade and pilot training for its P-3C patrol aircraft and C-130 cargo aircraft.

After the mandatory approval, Pakistan can buy this equipment by using a $200 million foreign military financing grant it expects to get from Washington during the fiscal 2003-2004. Pakistan also has a $75 million supplemental budget from the previous year to draw from."

"Money laundering was another major subject that Mueller discussed with the Arab and Pakistani officials," a senior diplomatic source said. Since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. agencies have cracked down hard on illegal money transfers from the United States, Western Europe and the Middle East to destinations in poorer Arab and Muslim countries. The FBI believes that at least part of these hundreds of millions of dollars sent through the 'hawala' or informal money transfers ends up in al-Qaida's hands.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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The plan includes speeding up efforts to catch Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders believed to be hiding in a tribal zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the sources said. The FBI already has an extensive presence in both the Middle East and South Asia, but is...
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