A missile suspected to have been fired by an unmanned US aircraft early on the morning of January 29, 2008, had destroyed a house, owned by Madad Khan, a local leader of the Taliban at a village called Khushali Torikhel, 12 kilometres south of Mir Ali town, in North Waziristan, where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Group, another Uzbek jihadi organisation, are based. While Madad Khan reportedly survived the attack, his 10
guests--all believed to be Uzbeks and Arabs--were killed. Two wives of Madad Khan and three of their children were also killed.
While the Pakistani authorities did not confirm the identities of those killed, local tribals suspected that one of those killed must have been Abu Laith al-Libi, a Libyan national and an important Al Qaeda leader, whose martyrdom, meaning death while waging jihad, was announced by a web site associated with Al Qaeda, on January 31, 2008. His so-called martyrdom has since been confirmed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to bin Laden, in an audio message disseminated on February 27, 2008.
The nine-minute, 59-second message titled "An Elegy to the Martyred Commander Abu Laith al-Libi," was issued by As-Sahab, the group's PSYWAR branch. It described al-Libi as a "knight" of Al Qaeda's holy war. He was "a mountain of Jihad and a lion." It added: "You Americans and you the agents of the Americans: (al-Libi and others) are the pioneers of the march and the good omen of a new dawn. Every time a martyr falls, another martyr grabs the banner from him, and every time a chief goes down in blood, another chief completes the march after him."
Immediately after the missile strike, there was speculation in the area targeted by the US that Adam Gadhan, the American convert to Islam, who headed As-Sahab, was also with Abu Laith at the time of the attack and was also killed, but this has not been confirmed so far.
Three mysteries continue to surround this incident giving rise to interesting speculation in the global community of terrorism analysts. First, what happened to Madad Khan, the owner of the house attacked? Many members of his family were reportedly killed, but there is so far no confirmed information regarding his fate. There has been speculation in the tribal belt of Pakistan that he must have been the man who tipped off the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) about the expected presence of Abu Laith in his house and that is how he escaped the missile attack of which he must have been aware..
The second mystery surrounds the fate of Adam Gadahn. According to Pakistani sources, he was also expected in the house along with Abu Laith. Did he come? If so, was he among those killed? If not, did he not keep his appointment with Abu Laith? If he had absented himself, did he also play a role in facilitating the missile strike? Did he know in advance about the impending strike and thus escape? Was he a mole of the CIA in Al Qaeda? Did he know that Madad Khan was also in touch with the CIA? Or were the two working independently of each other?
According to some sources in the tribal areas, Gadahn was not a mole of the CIA. He was present in the house of Madad Khan along with Abu Laith, but survived the missile attack with minor injuries. He was picked up by the Americans and flown to Morocco, where he is being interrogated by the US intelligence. It is also claimed by these sources that the US has not admitted this lest US legal rights experts raise the matter in US courts.
The third mystery surrounds the absence of Gadahn's translations in American English from the propaganda pieces produced by As-Sahab since the missile attack. He used to translate the messages of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and provide English sub-titles. Since the missile attack, either the English sub-titles are missing or when they are given they are of a different quality--either Pakistani or Arab English and not American English.
Is Gadahn alive or dead? If alive, where is he? If dead, why has Al Qaeda not admitted his death as it admitted the death of Abu Laith? Why the CIA, whose Director Lt.Gen.Michael Hyden claimed credit for the death of Abu Laith in a recent interview with the "Washington Post" remained silent on Gadahn?
Well-informed police sources in the Pashtun belt assert that both Al Qaeda and the CIA know what happened to Gadahn, but neither of them wants to say anything on the subject. There is speculation galore.
Only four people must be knowing the truth--Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Lt.Gen.Michael Hayden and Gadhan himself, if still alive. Will one of them clear the mystery?
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.
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