The LWOT: Mumbai terror trial focuses on Pakistani intelligence role

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Mumbai trial focuses on Pakistani intelligence connection

The trial of Chicago-based Pakistani Tahawwur Hussain Rana for allegedly providing support to the 2008 Mumbai attacks began in earnest yesterday, as opening statements quickly gave way to the testimony of David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American originally named Daood Gilani who is the prosecution’s star witness and has cooperated with Indian and American authorities since his 2009 arrest (NYTWashington PostAP,WSJReutersAJE). Headley testified in great detail about his role in scouting targets and preparing for the attacks, and described close cooperation between the group that perpetrated the attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), which many in the United States suspect of playing a "double game" on terrorism (ReutersGlobe and MailChicago Tribune).

Headley testified that the ISI provided "financial and military support" to LeT and told the jury that an ISI officer named "Major Iqbal" was involved at key steps of the attack planning, that Headley reported both to Iqbal and an LeT handler named Sajid Mir, and that Iqbal and a Pakistani navy "frogman" were intimately involved in choosing targets and the route that the LeT attackers took to reach Mumbai (ABCProPublicaTelegraph,BBC). Headley also described the support allegedly given by Rana, his childhood friend, to the plot, which Headley said included providing cover for him under the auspices of Rana’s immigration firm to set up shop in Mumbai and travel freely in and out of India (NYTWSJAP). Rana’s lawyer Charles Swift called Headley a "manipulative man" who had taken advantage of his friend, and argued that Headley was not a credible witness (TelegraphBBCAP). 

Headley will continue his testimony today, and was profiled this week by Sebastian Rotella and PBS (APProPublicaPBS). Bonus read: Stephen Tankel, "Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai and the ISI" (FP).

Egyptian named "interim" head of al-Qaeda: Former jihadist

A former commander in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who knew Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Noman Benotman, told journalists last week that Egyptian Saif al-Adel, a longtime al-Qaeda commander who is believed to have returned to Pakistan from house arrest in Iran last year, had been named the "interim" leader of al-Qaeda by a council of six to eight senior al-Qaeda figures based along the Afghanistan-Pakistani border (Der SpiegelCNNGuardianReuters).

Information seized from the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was killed has revealed a continued interest from the terror leader in planning high profile attacks against trains, aircraft and oil tankers, though Reuters reports that intelligence analysts have not found information on any imminent plots (APWSJWSJReuters). The Telegraph reports that information has been discovered linking bin Laden to the planning of an alleged Easter bomb plot in the British city of Manchester, a plot which led to a series of abrupt arrests in 2009 in Britain and the subsequent release of the suspects due to lack of evidence (Telegraph).

U.S. State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh offered the Obama administration’s legal justification for killing bin Laden last week in a post at the blog Opinio Juris, arguing that bin Laden’s position as the leader of al-Qaeda made him a legitimate military target under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after the 9/11 attacks (Opinio JurisABC). And in an interview with the BBC last week President Barack Obama said he would order another raid into Pakistan if an al-Qaeda leader were found to be hiding there (BBC). For more on bin Laden’s death, sign up for the AfPak Channel Daily Brief (FP).

Pakistani authorities last week announced the arrest of a Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, known as Abu Suhaib al-Makki, in the city of Karachi (McClatchyBBCCNNWSJ,GuardianReuters). Al-Makki was reported to have lived in Pakistan for 10 years, only to be arrested days after bin Laden was killed (Dawn). And the Iraqi army last week announced the arrest of Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) "military leader," Mikhlif Mohammed Hussein al-Azzawi, known as Abu Radhwan, as well as three other AQI operatives (ReutersAFP).

Afghan Gitmo detainee commits suicide

A 37-year old Guantánamo Bay detainee from Afghanistan with a long history of mental illness was found dead last Thursday after apparently hanging himself with a bedsheet in the prison’s yard (Miami HeraldBBCReutersAFPAPMcClatchy). Little information is available about the deceased, known by the name Inayatullah, who was among the last detainees to arrive at the prison after his arrest in 2007, and did not undergo a combatant status review (Miami Herald). His lawyer says his name was Hajji Nassim and that he was a cell phone salesman in Iran near the Pakistani-Afghan border, though the U.S. military says he was an al-Qaeda figure involved in smuggling foreign fighters. His body was repatriated to Afghanistan this past weekend (Miami Herald).

The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear the appeal of Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr, who pled guilty last year to killing a U.S. Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 when Khadr was 15 (Courthouse NewsLawfare Blog). An Algerian former detainee held for nearly eight years at Guantánamo, Saber Lahmar, announced yesterday that he will sue former President George W. Bush in a French court over his detention (AFP). And British activist and former detainee Moazzem Begg was denied access this weekend to an Air Canada flight from London to Toronto because the flight might have been re-routed to the United States (AFP).

Patriot Act extended

Top congressional leaders last week worked out a deal to extend until June 2015 three key provisions of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and another law, which allow the government to place "roving" wire taps, conduct surveillance on "lone wolf" terrorism suspects not linked to a terrorist group, and seize "any tangible thing" deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation (NYTAFPBloomberg).

Pakistanis accused of terror support to remain in jail 

A Florida judge yesterday refused bail to two Florida imams charged with funneling money to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ordering 76-year old Hafiz Khan and his son Izhan Khan to remain in jail until their trial (Miami HeraldReuters). Prosecutors provided more details about their case against the men, as well as that against another son, Irfan Khan, who last week was ordered held without bail in Los Angeles, and three others in Pakistan who are reportedly under house arrest (APAPReutersCNNMiami Herald). The Miami Herald has a lengthy profile of Hafiz and Izhar, and the confusion their arrest has caused in their respective communities (Miami Herald).

A New York grand jury last week indicted Algerian permanent resident Ahmed Ferhani for his alleged role in a plot to attack New York synagogues, while a lawyer for Ferhani’s alleged co-conspirator Mohamed Mamdouh agreed to give prosecutors until June 2 to bring his case before a grand jury (APCNNCBS New York). Both men assert their innocence in the plot (in reality an NYPD sting operation), and intend to challenge the strength of the case, whose investigation was handled by local, rather than federal, authorities (WNYCNYDN).

CNN reported this weekend that the U.S. Army may soon announce a court martial for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of killing 13 in a shooting rampage in November 2009 at Ft. Hood, Texas (CNN). A judge denied a motion in the case of accused Portland bomb plotter Mohamed Osman Mohamud that would have prevented FBI agents from discussing a piece of evidence with each other (The Oregonian). Carlos Bledsoe (also known as Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad), who allegedly shot and killed a soldier in front of an Arkansas recruitment station in 2009, wrote a letter to a local judge saying he intended to set up a terrorist cell in the U.S. after being deported from Yemen in 2009 (AP). And a man held after Faisal Shahzad’s failed attempt to bomb Times Square last May, Aftab Ali Khan, was ordered deported to his native Pakistan May 22 (AP).

In Washington State, the trial of suspected white supremacist Kevin Harpham for attempting to bomb a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Spokane was delayed until August 22 to give the defense more time to prepare (Spokesman-Review). An Ohio couple, Hor and Amera Akl, pled guilty to attempting to send up to $1 million to the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah (AP). Finally, federal authorities have filed charges against an American convert to Islam and co-founder of the radical group Revolution Muslim, Younus Abdullah Mohammad (originally Jesse Curtis Moore) for making threats against the creators of the show "South Park" after the show aired an image purportedly of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit (CNN).

Report warns of radicalization in Indonesian jails

A report released last week by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that Indonesian jails are an "incubator" of terrorist operations and recruitment, where extremists can preach, mingle freely with others, and have easy access to cell phones and other forms of communication (BBCAFPJakarta GlobeAustralia Broadcasting CorporationSydney Morning Herald). The New York Times last week looked at the rise of Islamic "vigilante groups" in Indonesia, whose violence against minority sects and religions is often ignored by police (NYT). And Indonesian police alleged last week that the group said to be responsible for a deadly suicide attack on a police mosque last month was linked to the hardline cleric Abu Bakir Bashir and the group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (Jakarta Globe).

Trials and Tribulations

  •  British authorities have relocated a British-Nigerian man known only as "CD" from London to the Midlands under a control order, after presenting evidence that the man was part of an extremist network in London, had attended a terror training camp in Syria, and had tried to buy firearms after his return (GuardianBBC).
  • A British court has prevented the deportation of a Tunisian man known as "MK" who was convicted on terrorism charges in Tunisia, while he appeals for asylum in the United Kingdom (Telegraph). The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd yesterday interviewed a British Muslim man who says he was pressured by British anti-terrorism police to "spy" on other Muslims, and reports that Britain’s "stop and search" anti-terror law was 42 times more likely to be employed on an "Asian" than a white person (GuardianGuardian).
  • Diplomatic cables released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks this weekend claimed that donors in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had given up to $100 million to charities and seminaries in Pakistan allegedly involved in jihadist recruitment efforts, including the recruitment of children (Reuters).
  • A Swedish newspaper this week reported that in 2009 Sweden’s police security agency Säpo discovered two suspected American intelligence agents were conducting illegal surveillance of people with possible terrorist links in the country without informing the Swedish government (AFP).
  • The U.S. State Department on May 19 designated the Gaza-based Army of Islam as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (StateWSJ). 
Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.

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