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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Zubaydah Is Dead"


from Martin Smith

click here for a larger map "Abu Zubaydah is dead. They killed him. The guy the Americans captured is some low-level look-alike."

The words came out of nowhere -- and rather nonchalantly -- from Dr. Saad al Fagih, a former Saudi Arabian surgeon who has spent the past eight years of his life living as a guest of the British, a Saudi political dissident in exile. I've known Saad since August of 1998 -- just after the embassy bombings in East Africa -- when I began researching the subject that takes me back to London to see him again today: Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the surge of terrorism that shadows modern Islam.

Saad says he's never met bin Laden, but he is connected somehow. For one, the satellite telephone that bin Laden allegedly used to plan the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings was purchased from a merchant in Columbus, Ohio, on Saad's own credit card.

Producer Martin Smith interviews Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed. (Photo by Marcela Gaviria)
Clever as he is, he's stayed out of trouble with the law. And over the years, Saad has been a fairly reliable source. But the idea that Abu Zubaydah is dead seems pretty incredible. Zubaydah has been consistently touted as the one big American "get," the highest-level snatch in a war on terror that has left most of Al Qaeda's top leaders either free or unaccounted for. Now Saad is claiming that even Abu Zubaydah, the one success story, the man supposedly feeding American investigators bits of precious intelligence from an undisclosed lockup, has not been caught after all. Instead, according to Saad, Americans are feeding on scraps of some Al Qaeda lackey.

It's a familiar story: If the Americans think they've hurt the organization, they're wrong. If the FBI thinks it's got a high-level Al Qaeda commander in custody, they're fooled. If America thinks Al Qaeda is defeated, just wait.

The comment about Abu Zubaydah rolls past, as do many more claims. He then takes me online to his favorite Web chat-room and shows me the latest gossip about Al Qaeda. Along with his cybermates, Saad keeps spinning tales of heroism and escape, and he chuckles when he talks about how stupid and arrogant he thinks the Americans are.

Exiled Saudi political dissident Dr. Saad al-Fagih.
When we say goodbye, Saad complains that I asked him about the bin Laden satellite phone. I feel a chill. He asks me to exclude this from our broadcast. I promise to tell him in advance what I intend to do. But that's the only promise I make.

In the afternoon I meet the affable and somewhat foolish Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, founder of the al Mujahiroun Web site, whose stated mission is to establish an Islamic state in the U.K. Bakri boasts to me about his recent fatwa calling for President Musharraf of Pakistan to be put on trial for siding with the Americans in the "war against Islam." "If he is convicted, the punishment would be death."

The guy is big and jaunty and seems to enjoy waging jihad with the enthusiasm of a party host. "It's a Quranic duty to fight infidels. It is my duty not to like them," he says. Amused by his performance, I tease him and ask if he dislikes me. He responds seriously but with a smile: "Yes, but that doesn't mean I hate you." I think that I am supposed to feel comforted by the distinction. It all seems like a well-rehearsed performance.

As we pack up to leave, he is on the phone issuing a fatwa to a woman who has called for advice on how to handle a misbehaving husband.


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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