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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "A Little Noticed Gun Battle"


from Martin Smith

click here for a larger map We planned to be in Karachi on 9/11, but have been delayed in Lahore where we have come from Faisalabad in order to interview the governor of the Punjab, one of the four Pakistani provinces. We are told that the governor, General Khalid Maqbool, is a close friend of President Pervez Musharraf and that he is one of only a handful of top officials to be given a high-level briefing on the March 28 raid on Abu Zubaydah's Shabaz cottage hideout in Faisalabad, before and after it happened.

We taped one interview with a member of the SWAT team that engaged Abu Zubaydah in hand-to-hand combat. He told -- in vivid detail -- how Zubaydah grabbed him by the neck and pushed him back before the police opened fire and shot Zubaydah in the groin. "He is the bravest and strongest person I have ever met," the officer said of Abu Zubaydah. "He told me I was not a Muslim."

But this policeman knows nothing about broader intelligence questions. And we need to learn much more. Where did Abu Zubaydah travel to Faisalabad from? What was he planning? What was on the computer retrieved from his residence? Who was with him? Does the government have information about conversations between Abu Zubaydah and other Al Qaeda figures? Governor Maqbool's staff told us the general wanted to talk to us, but we needed to wait. We cancelled our trip to Karachi. We waited.

On Wednesday I watched the 9/11 blanket coverage in my hotel room -- BBC, Fox News, CNN. But I was most interested in a little-noticed news item (first seen on the Reuters newswire on the Internet) that was unfolding simultaneously in Karachi. Wednesday morning at around 9 a.m., a large contingent of Karachi police surrounded an apartment building in a middle-class neighborhood after (according to one unnamed police source) "having traced a satellite phone call." Although the details are unclear, police next arrested two men on the street in front of the building who appeared, according to neighbors, to be "Afghans or Arabs." Shots were then fired at the police from the top or third floor. Then two grenades were hurled. The gun battle ended three hours later.

Meanwhile, I learn that our interview with the Punjab governor is delayed again. I decide that we're flying to Karachi first thing the next morning. I am tired of run-arounds.

Police raid the Karachi apartment of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Sept. 11, 2002.
At the airport early Thursday morning, I pick up a newspaper and read, "Two Al Qaeda Men Die in Karachi Encounter. Among those arrested, there were two Pakistanis, two Arabs and a Tajik, all of whom were unable to speak Urdu. Pearl's killer suspected to be among the dead."

I assume that this story got next to no coverage in the States. From what I could tell, the cable networks were falling all over each other to provide duplicate coverage of numerous 9/11 memorial services seasoned with dramatic reports of heightened "orange" terror alerts. Given that all the big guns were deployed elsewhere, a three-hour on-the-ground shootout in Karachi was a non-story. It got one mention on the Fox bottom-of-the-screen ticker. The BBC had some footage, but the 9/11 anniversary was, of course, the big news.

When we land in Karachi, it is nothing like I expect. It is cool, breezy, clear and sunny. Apparently, this is rarely what it's like in September, but I'll take it. We go to the scene of the shootout and talk to neighbors and police. The top floor of the building is shot to hell. "Looks like a 50-caliber machine gun chewed off the top floor," I tell Marcela. It looks nasty. The streets are full of passersby oohing and aahing at the hundreds of bullet holes, and there are a fair number of local press still hanging about. We spend the day trying to find out just what happened and who was arrested.

Then, in the early evening, I get a phone call from Hayat Ullah Khan in the Waziristan tribal area who tells me that he interviewed a member of the Frontier Police about the raids on Janikhel (see "An American Informer") but had his videotape confiscated after he asked some "impertinent" questions about police behavior. I get the name of the officer but hesitate to report him to the General Staff for fear more tapes will be confiscated from my man. I am getting him out of there.

The next day we learn that the Karachi raid had netted one of the central planners of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni roommate of Mohamed Atta. We spend part of our day in Karachi looking at some amateur footage of the raid. Clearly visible on several different tapes is one man chanting "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) as he is being led away by the police. I now realize that this man is bin al-Shibh.

Also arrested, according to President Musharraf, were seven other Yemenis, one Saudi and one Egyptian. No question, the raid was the most significant since the Abu Zubaydah raid in Faisalabad in March.


< 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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