Al-Qaeda had begun shifting it headquarters to Pakistan in 2002 after the US-led NATO’s ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ had driven out its Taliban-backers from most of Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda started sending out scouts to urban areas of Karachi and later made the city its chief operating base. It was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11 terror attacks, who procured apartments for Al-Qaeda in the posh Defence Housing Authority and Bahadurabad, another upper-middle class locality, to avoid detection. These apartments served as safe-houses for Al-Qaeda operatives.No one from the al-Qaeda was allowed to go out of the apartment until permitted initially.
These safe-houses were secured with help of the Jamaat-e-Islami linked business man, Saud Memon. It was at Saud Memon’s house that journalist Daniel Pearl had been beheaded in 2002. A source from the intelligence community has confirmed to TFT that “Daniel Pearl was getting closer to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when he was actually kidnapped and beheaded – ironically by the same man whom he was working on to expose ie Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”
Back in 2002, various local Jehadi organisations were linked to al-Qaeda and on at least one occasion, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is said to have lectured the top
leaders in Karachi.
It was around the same time when Masood Azhar was also launched by a certain intelligence agency, where he was tasked with the mission to raise a 500,000 strong army to liberate Kashmir but additionally to also cause a split within
a Jamaat-e-Islami backed militant organisation.
Another group formed during the same period was the Pakistani version of
Jundullah, headed by militant members of Jamaat-e-Islami. This group orchestrated attacks on the Karachi Corp Commander General Ahsan Hyat and the US Consulate.
However, it was the attack on French Naval workers on May 8, 2002 which alerted everyone to the presence of al-Qaeda in Karachi. The French Naval official bombing killed 14 workers of French marine engineering company Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN) in Karachi, including 11 French citizens. These killings were later linked to submarine sales by France to Pakistan that go back to the early 1990s.
Interestingly the first allegations to this end were levelled by Marc Trevidic, a French magistrate who was appointed incharge of the “Agosta submarine” case by Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the anti-terrorism judge in France.
Trevidic alleged on the basis on a memo and cable filed by a former intelligence official of DST, France Intelligence, which said that bombing of French nationals in 2002 were “financially motivated” despite a strongly worded statement from French Army Chief, General Jean Pierre Kelche, alluding to al-Qaeda’s involvement in carrying out the bomb attack.
While the media in Pakistan played up this allegation and even tried to implicate Asif Ali Zardari, the French media and intelligence community in particular always claimed that since certain rogue elements within the Pakistani security establishment were angry for not receiving
for the sub-marine deal set things up.
In France, President Nicholas Sarkozy, former President Jacques Chirac and former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin were under intense pressure to come up with real facts on the Agosta submarine deal and how certain funds were diverted to be used to fund an election campaign. Another twist to the story is the raid on Amir Lodhi’s house. Amir Lodhi, an absconder, is the brother to Ambassador Maliha Lodhi. Lodhi was the broker of the Agosta submarine deal by the DNIF, the French intelligence which provided details of the payments made to a top politician in Pakistan, who was paid between October and December in 1994.
So what happened?
After al-Qaeda had in early 2002 made Karachi its operational headquarters and started to disseminate its philosophy to local sectarian organisations in addition to forming an operational relationship with various Jehadi groups based in Karachi, foreigners in Karachi were always going to be a target. The series of incidents which occurred in Karachi from March 2002 onwards gives us a clue as to who really bombed the French engineers.
On April 26, 2002, an attempt on General Pervez Musharraf’s life failed because the remote control device didn’t explode. There was another unsuccessful attempt in April to bomb the US consulate. However on May 8, 2002, the terrorists did not miss and Sheraton Hotel shuddered with high intensity bomb blasts. OnJune 14, 2002, the US Consulate suffered another attack. Yet another attempt to charter a plane from Karachi airport and bring it down on US consulate was foiled. Interviews with law enforcement officers and jehadi organisations confirm that the attack on French engineers was actually “a change of plan” since the US Consulate had proved to be a difficult target and the French were an easy-prey. The group which carried out the bombing was
which was operating under the direct supervision of Imran and Hanif, who were closely linked to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. It was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who personally tasked the group to carry out these attacks.
It was a scout named Rahimullah, who the
deputed to watch the US Consulate, who planned the bombing.Rahimullah had observed the movement of a bus carrying Westerners and passing every day in front of him to Marriot Hotel, located close to the US Consulate in Karachi. He convinced his leaders to hit the French engineers as they were easier target. Sohail Akhtar aka Mustafa, also a member of the
was caught alive by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. Akhtar was directly involved in this plan and played the role of an intermediary between
and al-Qaeda. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed described Akhtar as the “master-mind” of the French engineers bombing. However, Akhtar was released by the Sindh High Court for want of effective prosecution.
While there had been speculations by many quarters in Pakistan that it was somehow Indians who planned to kill French in Pakistan to de-stabilise its submarine program, in reality it was the local brew of sectarian and religious terrorist organisations which had collaborated with al-Qaeda to target foreigners. Unfortunately, the French engineers were at a wrong place at a wrong time in Karachi on that fateful morning in the May of 2002.
Ali Chishti is a writer based in Karachi. He can be reached at