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The Globe and Mail

Harakat ul-Mujahedeen: Possible link between bin Laden and Pakistan

A tantalizing new clue has emerged that may help to explain the biggest question that still lingers after Osama bin Laden's death: How could Pakistani security forces have failed to notice a heavily fortified compound, topped with barbed wire, where the terrorist leader spent years in hiding?

Any such building would attract prying eyes in Pakistan - unless, of course, the local authorities were assured that the facility belonged to one of the militant groups that allegedly enjoys assistance from Pakistani intelligence.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that a cellphone recovered from Mr. bin Laden's house contained phone numbers linking him with Harakat ul-Mujahedeen (HuM), a group believed to have connections with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that date back to the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

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That explanation is similar to the account offered by a police official in Abbottabad, Pakistan, who told The Globe and Mail that his men were discouraged from looking closely at the bin Laden compound because it harboured extremists from another militant group focused on the disputed territory of Kashmir. At best, such reports suggest the Pakistani state suffered from a blind spot caused by its support for so-called "useful" militants: those fighting its perceived enemies in Afghanistan and India.

The Times went a step further, however, reporting that U.S. intelligence has traced calls from the seized cellphone to HuM commanders in the dangerous badlands of South Waziristan, who in turn made contact with ISI officials.

This does not prove that Pakistani authorities knew about Mr. bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, but it has sent analysts scrambling to dust off their reference books and look more closely at HuM and its nearly three decades of history in the region.

What the name means: "Movement of the Mujahedeen"

Aliases: "Al Faran," "Al Hadid," "Al Hadith," "Harakat ul Ansar," "Jamiat ul Ansar"

Founded: 1984

Leader: Fazlur Rehman Khalil took over in 1988 when his predecessor was killed by a land mine in Afghanistan. He reportedly lives on the outskirts of Islamabad.

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Links with al-Qaeda: Mr. Khalil signed Mr. bin Laden's infamous decree in 1998 calling for attacks on the United States and its citizens, making his organization part of the "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders." Threat assessments for detainees at Guantanamo, published by WikiLeaks, suggest that HuM helped members of al-Qaeda escape Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion of 2001 and the two groups remained "in complete contact with each other."

Notable operations

1995 - A group linked to HuM kidnapped six Westerners in Kashmir.

1998 - HuM joined the Taliban attack on Mazar-e Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan. This episode of the Afghan civil war became notorious for atrocities on both sides.

1999 - HuM allegedly took part in the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814, which lasted seven days.

Sources: A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan, by Muhammad Amir Rana; An Enemy We Created, by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn (forthcoming)

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