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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Old Hash"


from Marcela Gaviria

click here for a larger map I'm caught up again in the misinformation campaign. This time I'm sitting in front of Hamid Mir, the only journalist in the world to have interviewed Osama bin Laden post-Sept. 11. And he's spinning his story in many directions.

Our chat takes place in a makeshift newsroom in the basement of a modern Islamabad high rise. A fly buzzes about, resting every few seconds on my hand or on my knee. Initially Mir seems a bit distracted -- we are just another bunch of Western journalists making the pilgrimage to the man who has trumped us all with his Nov. 8 interview of bin Laden. But after we hand him a copy of FRONTLINE's "Hunting bin Laden," he seems to warm up.

He tells us that roughly 2,000 to 3,000 Al Qaeda are still in the Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran area. " You can find them in Shiraz (Iran) and in Karachi. They are everywhere. Driving cabs. Selling newspapers." He also tells us that the jihadists that have been detained in Pakistan aren't the real deal. "They were security guards or drivers for Al Qaeda, but not real Al Qaeda."

And Osama bin Laden? "I am 101 percent sure that he is still alive. He was seen at a wedding in Khost last March, and there haven't been any major operations since then. The American troops are very restricted. They are not in a position to operate in the tribal areas."

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir keeps the business card of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in his wallet. (Photo by Scott Anger)
It's all old hash. And I'm not sure I trust much of what he is saying. Who is this man? Why did bin Laden choose him three times to convey his message to the rest of the world? Even though I don't ask these questions, Mir knows what I'm thinking. He spends an inordinate amount of time explaining how he came to meet bin Laden in the first place. It's an odd tale about taunting the Taliban for being too pro-American, and how the Taliban wanted to prove him wrong so they introduced him to their infamous guest of honor. There is a saying in Spanish that roughly translates, "Only a guilty man would defend himself before he is asked to."

The meeting ends with Mir pulling from his wallet the business card of Daniel Pearl, the slain Wall Street Journal reporter. "I told Danny not to meet with Sheik Omar. I told him, you are Jewish and you're living in India. I now tell you, not only don't meet with the sheik. Don't go to Karachi." On that note we say goodbye. Mir takes my business card and I ask him not to put it in his wallet.


< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

London
(Aug. 13-14)

Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

Pakistan
(Aug. 22-29)

+ Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

Pakistan
(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

Frustrations
9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

Indomitable
23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

Yemen
(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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