WASHINGTON - Evidence now available from various sources, including
recently declassified U.S. State Department documents, shows that the
Taliban regime led by Mullah Mohammad Omar imposed strict isolation on
Osama bin Laden after 1998 to prevent him from carrying out any plots
against the United States.
contradicts the claims by top officials of the Barack Obama
administration that Mullah Omar was complicit in Osama bin Laden's
involvement in the al Qaeda plot to carry out the terrorist attacks in
the United States on Sep. 11, 2001. It also bolsters the credibility of
Taliban statements in recent months asserting that it has no interest
in al Qaeda's global jihadist aims.
primary source on the relationship between bin Laden and Mullah Omar
before 9/11 is a detailed personal account provided by Egyptian
jihadist Abu'l Walid al-Masri published on Arabic-language jihadist
websites in 1997.
Al-Masri had a unique knowledge of the
subject, because he worked closely with both bin Laden and the Taliban
during the period. He was a member of bin Laden's Arab entourage in
Afghanistan, but became much more sympathetic to the Afghan cause than
bin Laden and other al Qaeda officials from 1998 through 2001.
first published English-language report on al-Masri's account, however,
was an article in the January issue of the CTC Sentinal, the journal of
the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, by Vahid Brown, a
fellow at the CTC.
Mullah Omar's willingness to allow bin Laden
to remain in Afghanistan was conditioned from the beginning, according
to al-Masri's account, on two prohibitions on his activities: bin Laden
was forbidden to talk to the media without the consent of the Taliban
regime or to make plans to attack U.S. targets.
Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told IPS in an interview that
the regime "put bin Laden in Kandahar to control him better." Kandahar
remained the Taliban political headquarters after the organisation's
seizure of power in 1996.
The August 1998 U.S. cruise missile
strikes against training camps in Afghanistan run by bin Laden in
retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa on
Aug. 7, 1998 appears to have had a dramatic impact on Mullah Omar and
the Taliban regime's policy toward bin Laden.
Two days after
the strike, Omar unexpectedly entered a phone conversation between a
State Department official and one of his aides, and told the U.S.
official he was unaware of any evidence that bin Laden "had engaged in
or planned terrorist acts while on Afghan soil". The Taliban leader
said he was "open to dialogue" with the United States and asked for
evidence of bin Laden's involvement, according to the State Department
cable reporting the conversation.
Only three weeks after Omar
asked for evidence against bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader sought to
allay Taliban suspicions by appearing to accept the prohibition by Omar
against planning any actions against the United States.
is an opinion among the Taliban that we should not move from within
Afghanistan against any other state," bin Laden said in an interview
with al Jazeera. "This was the decision of the Commander of the
Faithful, as is known."
Mullah Omar had taken the title
"Commander of the Faithful", the term used by some Muslim Caliphs in
the past to claim to be "leader of the Muslims", in April 1996, five
months before Kabul fell to the Taliban forces.
September and October 1998, the Taliban regime apparently sought to
position itself to turn bin Laden over to the Saudi government as part
of a deal by getting a ruling by the Afghan Supreme Court that he was
guilty of the Embassy bombings.
In a conversation with the U.S.
chargé in Islamabad on Nov. 28, 1998, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, Omar's
spokesman and chief adviser on foreign affairs, referred to a previous
Taliban request to the United States for evidence of bin Laden's guilt
to be examined by the Afghan Supreme Court, according to the U.S.
diplomat's report to the State Department.
Muttawakil said the
United States had provided "some papers and a videocassette," but
complained that the videocassette had contained nothing new and had
therefore not been submitted to the Supreme Court. He told the chargé
that the court had ruled that no evidence that had been presented
warranted the conviction of bin Laden.
Muttawakil said the court
trial approach had "not worked" but suggested that the Taliban regime
was now carrying out a strategy to "restrict [bin Laden's] activities
in such a way that he would decide to leave of his own volition."
Feb. 10, 1999, the Taliban sent a group of 10 officers to replace bin
Laden's own bodyguards, touching off an exchange of gunfire, according
to a New York Times story of Mar. 4, 1999. Three days later, bodyguards
working for Taliban intelligence and the Foreign Affairs Ministry
personnel took control of bin Laden's compound near Kandahar and took
away his satellite telephone, according to the U.S. and Taliban sources
cited by the Times.
Taliban official Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, who
was then in the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan, confirmed that the 10
Taliban bodyguards had been provided to bin Laden to "supervise him and
observe that he will not contact any foreigner or use any communication
system in Afghanistan," according to the Times story.
pressure on bin Laden in 1999 also extended to threats to eliminate al
Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan. An e-mail from two leading Arab
jihadists in Afghanistan to bin Laden in July 1999, later found on a
laptop previously belonging to al Qaeda in and purchased by the Wall
Street Journal , referred to "problems between you and the Leader of
the Faithful" as a "crisis".
The e-mail, published in article by
Alan Cullison in the September 2004 issue of The Atlantic, said, "Talk
about closing down the camps has spread."
The message even suggested that the jihadists feared the Taliban regime could go so far as to "kick them out" of Afghanistan.
the face of a new Taliban hostility, bin Laden sought to convince
Mullah Omar that he had given his personal allegiance to Omar as a
Muslim. In April 2001 bin Laden referred publicly to having sworn
allegiance to Mullah Omar as the "Commander of the Faithful".
al-Masri recalls that bin Laden had refused to personally swear such an
oath of allegiance to Omar in 1998-99, and had instead asked al-Masri
himself to give the oath to Omar in his stead. Al-Masri suggests that
bin Laden deliberately avoided giving the oath of allegiance to Omar
personally, so that he would be able to argue within the Arab jihadi
community that he was not bound by Omar's strictures on his activities.
in summer 2001, as the Taliban regime became increasingly dependent on
foreign jihadi troop contingents, including Arabs trained in bin
Laden's camps, for its defence against the military advances of the
Northern Alliance, Mullah Omar found yet another way to express his
unhappiness with bin Laden's presence.
After a series of clashes
between al Qaeda forces and those of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
(IMU), the Taliban leader intervened to give overall control of foreign
volunteer forces to the Tahir Yuldash of the IMU, according to a blog
post last October by Leah Farrall, an Australian specialist on jihadi
politics in Afghanistan.
In Late January, Geoff Morrell, the
spokesman for Defence Secretary Robert Gates, suggested that the United
States could not negotiate with Mullah Omar, because he has "the blood
of thousands of Americans on his hands," implying that he had knowingly
allowed bin Laden's planning of the 9/11 attacks.