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The Pakistani Connection - June 14, 2002

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Two men have been arrested. What is unique about their capture is that neither could have been taken into U.S. custody without the help of the government of Pakistan.

Their backgrounds couldn't be any more different.

José Padilla is a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican Catholic who moved to Chicago, became a gang-banger, did time in Florida, converted to Islam and joined al-Qaeda. He calls himself Abdullah al Muhajir.

Abu Zubaydah is a Saudi-born Palestinian who became al-Qaeda's chief of operations, reportedly took Padilla on as a protégé, and ultimately became a primary informant for American intelligence.

Before leaving South Florida in the late 1990s, Padilla became an Islamic fundamentalist and an Al Qaeda operative. And when al-Qaeda needed someone to work alongside in a dirty-nuke feasibility study, according to reports, it chose Padilla.

Zubaydah enters the picture in Afghanistan. Prior to Sept. 11, Padilla allegedly met with Zubaydah. He allegedly became his apprentice in late 2001, just as U.S. bombs were falling on Afghanistan.

According to reports, in March 2002, Zubaydah sent Padilla to Karachi, Pakistan, to meet with al-Qaeda leaders. It was there that they reportedly discussed the dirty-nuke plan.

Zubaydah was shot by Pakistani authorities, taken into custody and turned over to the U.S. at the end of March. Several of Zubaydah's lieutenants also were captured.

Zubaydah's notebook, which contains accounts of other al-Qaeda plots, was recovered. Statements from Zubaydah were cross-checked with those of various interrogated suspects, including the captured lieutenants. And details from notebooks and computer disks that were seized from al-Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan and Afghanistan were examined for correlations.

Information obtained from Zubaydah eventually led to the arrest of Padilla. Padilla was arrested at O'Hare International Airport after traveling from Pakistan to Zurich, to Egypt, back to Zurich and then on to Chicago. At the time of his arrest, Padilla was carrying more than $10,000 in cash, which was believed to have come from al-Qaeda.

Padilla reportedly traveled extensively with Zubaydah before being sent to Lahore, Pakistan, to work with an associate on constructing a dirty bomb. Subsequently, he is alleged to have gone to the United States to scout for bombing locations.

In early April, Padilla was detained by the Pakistanis on an immigration matter and later released. He was let go at the request of the United States but continued to be closely monitored by U.S. and local authorities. Pakistani intelligence and government officials indicate that Padilla traveled to a central Asian country in April looking to buy radioactive materials.

Two of his associates have been taken into custody and are being questioned in Pakistan. In addition, approximately a half dozen men "of U.S. origin" alleged to be working for al-Qaeda have been captured in Pakistan and handed over to U.S. authorities.

In observing all of the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Padilla and Zubaydah, it is apparent that a pattern is shaping up, one with weighty implications. The pattern is this: Cooperation between the United States and Pakistan leads to the capture of potential informants.

Terrorists would prefer that cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan cease to exist. Al-Qaeda and friends hate that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf abandoned the Taliban regime, aided the U.S. and agreed to crack down on cross-border infiltrations into the India side of Kashmir. Musharraf is increasingly referred to as a traitor and American puppet, and U.S. intelligence indicates that al-Qaeda has plans to assassinate him.

But Pakistan's role in foiling Padilla and Zubaydah's dirty-nuke plot and capturing key players within enemy ranks must remain in U.S. focus. For it illustrates that what occurs in Pakistan holds great significance as to whether we win or lose this high-stakes war.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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