Recently, Jonathan Mahler wrote an article titled “What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?” in the New York Times, highlighting conflicting accounts of the Bin Laden raid in Abbotabad. Mahler’s starting point seems to be Seymour Hersh’s denial of the official account, in which Hersh makes the following major claims:
- That a secret informant from the Pakistan intelligence steered the US to Bin Laden’s compound
- That Pakistan knew about the raid in advance, and facilitated it
While Mahler concludes that the truth is knowable yet unknown as of now, he does establish that the official account is unanimously suspect. There is one source of information, however, that previous analyses of the raid so far have either missed, omitted or under-played.
Pervez Musharraf wrote the following in his memoir “In The Line Of Fire” published in September 2006:
One of those leads caused us to arrest someone from Gujranwala, Punjab, who had kept Libbi in his house and was Libbi’s courier. Under interrogation he revealed that he had rented a house in Abbotabad, and that was where Libbi was living right then. This man had also kept his family there to provide cover for Libbi. What he did not tell us is that there were actually three houses in Abbotabad that Libbi used. At that time Libbi was in the third house. Our people raided the first one, and Libbi escaped. The second miss was again in Abbotabad. We were tipped off that someone important in al Qaeda was living in a house there, and that someone else, also very important, someone we were looking for, was supposed to come and meet him. We did not know that the second someone was Abu Faraj al-Libbi, but we had enough information to attempt an interception. Our team members stationed themselves around the house in Abbotabad. When the expected visitor turned up, the person in the house came out to meet him. But as he approached, the visitor acted suspicious and tried to run away. There was an exchange of fire, and he was killed. The visitor was not Libbi. Later, after we arrested Libbi and interrogated him, we discovered his pattern: he would always send somebody ahead as a decoy while he himself stayed behind to observe. He was undoubtedly watching his decoy perform the fatal pantomime that day.
Libbi was Al-Qaeda’s “number three” as “director of operations”, a role once filled by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Musharraf also describes Libbi as the “chief of Al Qaeda’s operations in Pakistan”, and claims that he was one Al Qaeda operative whose name George W. Bush knew, other than Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
While the official narrative of the raid focuses on how Libbi’s arrest in Mardan in 2005 eventually led to Bin Laden’s compound after years of investigation into Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (Real Name: Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed), it conveniently misses the fact that Abbotabad was already flagged by Pakistani authorities as far back as 2004.
Libbi was arrested in Mardan after not one but three houses in Abbotabad were associated with him. Not only that, Pakistani authorities were tipped off about the presence of another important Al Qaeda member at one of the houses.
Regarding the arrest itself, Musharraf writes:
Though he was wearing big sunglasses and a cap, our people had no doubt that it was he, because of the leukoderma on his face. His driver stayed on the bike while a gunman followed at a distance. The moment Libbi came close to one of our burka-clad “women,” “she” jumped up and embraced him. It was quite a scene. In a place as conservative as the North-West Frontier Province, a woman in a burka embracing a man in public is unthinkable. The moment this happened, Libbi’s gunman (later identified as Ibrahim, a Pakistani courier) opened fire aimlessly…
The gunman/courier named Ibrahim was arrested too. While there could be two couriers named Ibrahim working with top Al Qaeda leadership, at the very least, Musharraf’s memoir establishes that compounds in Abbotabad were flagged as far back as 2004, and states that Libbi was not arrested alone. This seems to support Hersh’s claim that Pakistani authorities knew, and but challenges the “secret informant” hypothesis – would the US need an informant to tell them to check what top Al Qaeda leader is living in Abbotabad and what is the deal with the three compounds?
As Mahler concludes:
The writing of history is a process, and this story still seems to have a long way to go before the government’s narrative can be accepted as true, or rejected as false.