bradDaniel Pearl and the Paymaster of 9/11:Fri Sep 8, 2006 21:32Daniel Pearl and the Paymaster of 9/11:
9/11 and The Smoking Gun that Turned On its Tracker
by Chaim Kupferberg
It was supposed to be the key chain of evidence linking the September 11 hijackers to Osama bin Laden - a wire transfer of $100,000 to lead hijacker Mohamed Atta. For a public increasingly skeptical of evidence culled from passports in the rubble and flight manuals in the glove compartment, here was the "money" shot, a financial trail leading to the fall of the Twin Towers. Yet less than five months later, the man initially fingered as the paymaster of 9/11 would be sitting in a Pakistani jail, accused of a wholly different crime - the murder of Daniel Pearl.
Depending on where or when you have read his name, he is known as Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, or Umar Sheikh, or Syed Sheikh(if you write for CNN). For simplicity's sake, we will refer to him as Omar Saeed, a Pakistani-born former student of the London School of Economics who grew up in the suburbs of Great Britain. Under the alias of Mustafa Mohammed Ahmad, he was reported to have wired $100,000 to a bank account in Florida belonging to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.
"U.S. investigators believe they have found the 'smoking gun' linking Osama bin Laden to the September 11 terror attacks," wrote Julian Borger and John Hooper of The Guardian on October 1, 2001. That very same day, a terror group based in Pakistan, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility for a suicide attack against the provincial legislature in Kashmir, leaving 38 dead - and Pakistan on the brink of war with India.
As reported by Maria Ressa of CNN on October 8, 2001, here is Omar Saeed's connection to that incident:
"The Pakistan-based group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, initially claimed responsibility for the attack. It was formed by Pakistani cleric Maulana Mazood Azhar, shortly after he was released from an Indian prison in 1999. Azhar was one of three jailed Islamic militants freed by Indian authorities in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines 814. Indian and U.S. authorities now see a link between that hijacking and the September 11 attacks in the United States. Freed with Azhar was Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh [Omar Saeed], whom authorities say used a pseudonym to wire $100,000 to suspected hijacker Mohammad Atta, who then distributed the money in the United States."
According to a CNN posting dated October 6:
"[Omar Saeed] would still be in prison were it not for the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 - an ordeal strikingly similar to the four hijackings carried out on September 11. The plane, with 178 passengers on board, was en route from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, India, when terrorists used knives to take control of the aircraft, slitting the throat of one passenger to force the pilots to open the cockpit door…Because investigators have now determined that [Omar Saeed] and Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad [the pseudonym] are the same person, it provides another key link to bin Laden as the mastermind of the overall [9/11] plot."
Notice the implication here: the bin Laden connection to 9/11 is considerably strengthened by reason of bin Laden's connection to Omar Saeed, whose own connection to the 1999 Indian Airlines hijacking bears a gruesome similarity to the modus operandi reportedly employed in commandeering the airplanes on September 11. Lest there be any doubt as to Omar Saeed's status in al-Qaida, terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp offered this assessment in the same October 6 article: "He [Omar Saeed] is also linked to the financial network feeding bin Laden's assets, so therefore he's quite an important person...because he transfers money between various operatives, and he's a node between al Qaeda and foot soldiers on the ground."
That is the testimony from CNN. And, as far as I can tell, CNN's October 8 article was - at least for several months - practically the American "mainstream" media's last mention of Omar Saeed and his $100,000 deposit for 9/11. For on that very next day - October 9 - The Times of India broke with this bombshell:
"While the Pakistani Inter Services Public Relations claimed that former ISI [the "Pakistani CIA"] director-general Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmad sought retirement after being superseded on Monday, the truth is more shocking. Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday that the general lost his job because of the "evidence" India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Center. The U.S. authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh [Omar Saeed] at the instance of General Mahmud [Ahmad]. Senior government sources have confirmed that India contributed significantly to establishing the link between the money transfer and the role played by the dismissed ISI chief. While they did not provide details, they said that Indian inputs, including [Omar Saeed's] mobile phone number, helped the FBI in tracing and establishing the link."
Thus, courtesy of The Times of India, by October 9, Omar Saeed was not only tagged as the "bagman" of 9/11, but he was now reported as acting under the orders of the chief of Pakistani intelligence. That in itself is not so surprising, as the ISI was long acknowledged as being the primary backer - pre-9/11 - of the Taliban. Yet why, then, would the U.S. government insist on nothing more punitive than the general's immediate retirement? Here is one possible reason, courtesy of the archives of Karachi News, datelined September 9, 2001 (two days before 9/11, for those who didn't notice):
"ISI Chief Lt-Gen [Mahmud Ahmad's] week-long presence in Washington has triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council. Officially, State Department sources say he is on a routine visit in return to CIA Director George Tenet's earlier visit to Islamabad...What added interest to his visit is the history of such visits. Last time Ziauddin Butt, [General Ahmad's] predecessor, was here during Nawaz Sharif's government, the domestic politics turned topsy-turvy within days. That this is not the first visit by [General Ahmad] in the last three months shows the urgency of the ongoing parleys."
In the light of what followed, one might hazard a guess as to what was so urgent. Whatever the case, Omar Saeed, by way of General Mahmud Ahmad, had now garnered his very own - albeit indirect - connection to the Pentagon. Under normal circumstances, The Times of India article could be effectively quashed simply through being ignored by the mainstream American media (which it was, save for a brief, almost sluggish, mention from the Wall Street Journal). Nevertheless, there now remained the sticky matter of dealing with that $100,000 money trail - possibly one of the greatest examples (if the only one) of a smoking gun turning on its tracker.
Put simply, here was the problem: as early as September 18, the gun was simmering on low heat, gradually drawing flavor as the days passed. As reported by Jim Stewart of CBS News that day: "From apartments, homes and cars once belonging to the dead hijackers, agents have uncovered a money trail that they hope will lead to the hijackers' accomplices." And, sure enough, by September 30, it did, when ABC News "This Week" reported:
"...federal authorities have...tracked more than $100,000 from banks in Pakistan to two banks in Florida to accounts held by suspected hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta. As well this morning, TIME magazine is reporting that some of that money came in the days just before the attack and can be traced directly to people connected to Osama bin Laden."
The next day, October 1, 2001, the smoking gun sprouted an alias - Mustafa Ahmad, as reported by Judith Miller of the New York Times (and not to be confused with General Mahmud Ahmad, the ISI Chief). Similarly, Borger and Hooper of The Guardian that very same day named bin Laden's paymaster as Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad, pointing out that this was the alias for a "Sheikh Saeed", who was reported to have wired the money from the United Arab Emirates before he left for Pakistan.
The money trail story was now in full swing, yet trouble - perhaps traces of the brewing ISI revelation - now seemed to be lurking in the background. By October 3, 2001, things started to get unsettlingly murky. For on that day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair released his infamous report, summarizing - for a skeptical public - the "persuasive" case against bin Laden for involvement in the events of September 11. Yet amid all the innuendo that was employed in the report to nail down bin Laden's culpability, there was nary a mention of that key piece of evidence - the $100,000 pay-off to the hijackers.
Even more curiously, on that very day, New York Newsday reporters John Riley and Tom Brune provided an alternative suspect for the Mustafa Ahmad alias:
"Mustafa Ahmad is an alias used by Shaykh Sai-id, who has been identified as a high-ranking bin Laden financial lieutenant. In the wake of the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania in 1998, Tanzanian officials arrested and charged with murder an Egyptian named Mustafa Ahmed. After alleging that he had confessed to being a high-level al-Qaida operative, Tanzania then released him without explanation a few months later, according to news reports at the time."
Put simply, if Riley and Brune are correct, then "Shaykh Sai-id", alias Mustafa Ahmad, could not possibly be Omar Saeed, as Omar was nicely locked away in an Indian prison in 1998. Keep in mind, too, that this article appears to be one of the first American references to Mustafa Ahmad as being an alias for a "Shaykh Sai-id."
A follow-up article by The Guardian's Julian Borger, dated October 5, 2001, does not make matters any clearer. Critiquing Blair's definitive report on al-Qaida, he wrote:
"It omits mention of a key link in the evidential chain discovered by U.S. investigators: the money trail between a group of the hijackers and an al-Qaida operative in Dubai, known as Mustafa Ahmad. It is not clear whether it is Ahmad, an al-Qaida paymaster, that Mr. Blair has in mind when the document claims 'one of Bin Laden's closest and most senior associates was responsible for the detailed planning of the attacks.' He could instead have in mind someone higher up in the chain of command such as Mohamed Atef or Abu Zubeidah, both of whom are al-Qaida military commanders."
As to Borger's consideration of Mustafa Ahmad's status in the al-Qaida hierarchy: "A lower-level al-Qaida figure, known as Sheikh Saeed, alias Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad, organized money transfers from Dubai to the hijackers and received return transfers of unused money before leaving for Pakistan on September 11." By the end of the first week of October, various news correspondents had apparently provided alternative personas for the Mustafa Ahmad alias - and nobody seemed to notice.
That first week of October 2001 was indeed a busy one in the War Against Terror. It began with a high-profile terror attack in Kashmir, perpetrated, reportedly, by a group with links to the man tagged by CNN as paving the money trail to 9/11. Mid-week saw the release of Tony Blair's much-touted report on the evidence against bin Laden, conveniently timed for the invasion of Afghanistan by week's end. If, by late September, the smoking gun was shaping up to be the starting gun for the race into Afghanistan, at some point in that first week of October, there was enough smoke blowing in all directions to keep everyone well and thoroughly diverted.
On December 18, 2001, the Associated Press - acting as the mouthpiece for the mainstream press in absentia - would officially (and matter-of-factly) put on record for us the identity of the paymaster behind 9/11, unveiling him as:
"Shaihk Saiid, also known as Sa'd al-Sharif and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hisawi. A Saudi, Saiid, 33, is bin Laden's brother-in-law and financial chief. Saiid has been with bin Laden since his time in the Sudan. Saiid allegedly wired money to Atta in preparation for the Sept. 11 attacks, according to court documents."
The "court documents" in question are, presumably, the Zacarias Mossaoui indictments released earlier that week, listing "Mustafa Ahmad" as paymaster. With a deft sleight of hand, and seemingly from out of nowhere, the Associated Press had managed to replace a 28-year old Pakistani militant tied to the ISI (Omar Saeed) with a 33-year old Saudi (Shaihk Saiid) tied - by marriage- to Osama bin Laden himself.
The Associated Press had gradually edged toward its December 18 announcement, supported by a convenient paper trail - in particular, President Bush's Global Terrorist Executive Order, signed September 23, 2001, in which a "Shaykh Sai'id (aka Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad)" was mentioned as a financial operative in al-Qaida, among a list of 27 individuals and entities slated to have their assets frozen. On October 13, 2001 (four days after The Times of India bombshell), the Associated Press announced that "the government [had] widened its financial dragnet," including on a "new list": "Sa'd Al-Sharif, a brother-in-law of bin Laden and a senior associate believed to head bin Laden's complex financial network." Note that the October 13 piece made no mention of any aliases for Sa'd al-Sharif, nor did it connect him to the - by then - well-publicized money trail. It took a third list, announced on December 18, for the Associated Press to complete the syllogism: Sa'd al-Sharif = Shaykh Sai'id = Mustafa Ahmad = 9/11 bagman. By then, however, bin Laden's culpability was long settled, and any money trail long forgotten.
More conveniently, an alternative home could now be found for that $100,000 revelation, distancing it from The Times of India and CNN, circa Oct. 6-8. Now all that remained was to prepare alternative "lodgings" for Omar Saeed and the retired ISI general. Sometime in November 2001, the Justice Department complied by laying out the bedding, "secretly" indicting Omar Saeed for a 1994 kidnapping, and thus setting the stage for his later appearance in an entirely different performance - the murder of Daniel Pearl.
The Disinformation Thickens
If, by December 18, the money trail to 9/11 was now a settled fact, nobody seemed to take much notice. Earlier that week, on December 13, the Bush Administration had presented a new, more "sexy", smoking gun - the certified Osama bin Laden Videotape Confession. That would probably explain why, five days later, no headlines were screaming "Bin Laden Brother-In-Law Linked To 9/11!" And perhaps that would be for the better, as such a headline might have triggered a keen sense of deja vu in anyone who was able to recall another bin Laden brother-in-law who was linked to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 - Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Ramzi Yousef, the alleged terrorist bomber convicted of that crime, was "said to have received money from bin Laden's brother-in-law," according to Steve Macko in a July 25, 1997 item from ERRI.
Curiously, it was this particular brother-in-law who was first mentioned in connection with the events of September 11, as early as two days after. According to correspondent Jaime Laude of Philippine Headline News Online, "...the government announced it is stepping up efforts to hunt down Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Bin Laden, the prime suspect in Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the U.S." A CNN article by Maria Ressa, dated September 28, 2001, linked Khalifa to the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, and, through Ramzi Yousef, to the 1993 WTC attack. As reported by Ressa in that article, "Part of the Osama bin Laden money trail [for September 11] may lead to the Philippines and the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group." In other words, if the money trail did lead to Abu Sayyaf, we would po
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