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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Faisal Town"


from Marcela Gaviria

click here for a larger map Faisalabad, the third largest city in Pakistan, is a bustling agricultural center that reminds me much of Peshawar except for its Indian accents. There are camel-driven tongas and Punjabs instead of Pashtuns.

The town was named after its main benefactor, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. It is a fitting name. Faisalabad is a deeply conservative and religious town that serves as a home base to every radical Islamic fundamentalist group in Pakistan. Here are the headquarters to Sipa-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jangvi, Jaamat-e-Asumet, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Abu Zubaydah
Abu Zubaydah, Osama bin Laden's chief recruiter, came to Faisalabad sometime in late February 2002, hoping to rely on a network of friends belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad. He posed as a merchant and rented a sprawling marble mansion from a wealthy widow. This much we have been able to verify.

Shabaz cottage, in Faisal Town, became the home of Abu Zubaydah and a handful Al Qaeda members from places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Neighbors say Zubaydah rarely ventured out into the streets of Faisalabad. One neighbor wondered why the lights of his imposing house were on 24 hours a day.

But that wasn't the give-away. Abu Zubaydah's cover was blown by a soccer ball. At least that is the story we are told by a neighbor through choppy translation. A child's soccer ball fell in the wrong place and one of the Arabs in the house yelled at the children in Arabic. Rumor has it that this happened as a police constable was driving by. He was surprised to hear Arabic, in an Urdu-speaking town, and hoping to secure a raise, or get promoted, or perhaps just do his duty, he reported the incident to his superiors. Soon a cloud of FBI agents had every radar pointed at the Shabaz cottage. Zubaydah's satellite calls to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine were monitored for days.

We are hearing this story as we make our way to the Shabaz cottage late one evening. It is pitch black outside and we are lost in some neighborhood in the outskirts of Faisalabad looking for the house. Out of the corner of my eye, a dozen men jump out of a Hi Lux jeep with their machine guns. My heart skips a beat. The men are wearing black caps, black T-shirts, black sweatpants, and are carrying heavy duty submachine guns. It's hard to tell in the darkness of night if these are radical extremists out to scare a group of foreigners or some paramilitary police force trying to heard us back into our hotel rooms. The logo on their T-shirts says "No Fear."

Abu Zubaydah's house in Faisalabad.
The squadron of men turn out to work for the Punjab Elite Police Force. We haven't asked for their protection, but it's not exactly a choice. The commandos take us to Shabaz cottage and even pose for a few shots outside the gates of the Al Qaeda compound. A man standing at the roof of the house next door films us as we shoot the exteriors of the house. I wonder if he is some kind of spy.

The next two days are spent trying to corroborate the details of Abu Zubaydah's capture and arrest. The reporting is complicated by the language barriers. We shake hands with various police officers, drink tea at a handful of houses, work the system. Nobody can understand our questions and we can't understand the answers.

For instance, during one interview, after I asked if there were any Arabs arrested in the raid, this is the note our fixer handed over: "Attached in this house a rental family leave that house. There were five persons arrested in that person leave here."


< 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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