Foreign passports linked to attacks on West found

Foreign passports linked to attacks on West found

Documents show Waziristans direct ties with al-Qaeda

Foreign passports linked to attacks on West found

Seized photos and an alleged Spanish passport of Raquel Garcia Burgos at the Sherwangi Tor village in south Waziristan on Thursday. AFP

Last week, soldiers raiding Taliban compounds in Shelwasti village, on the edge of the Mehsud tribal territory, recovered a passport in the name of Said Bahaji, a German national accused of being part of the Hamburg cell that coordinated the September 11, 2001, attacks.

They also found a Spanish passport in the name of Raquel Burgos Garcia, whose Moroccan husband, Amer Azizi, is accused of playing a role in the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

The passports were shown to journalists as they visited frontline positions of the army attack on the Taliban. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the passports with German or Spanish authorities, but the dates on the documents tally with known information about their holders’ last movements. Bahaji’s passport was issued on August 3, 2001. A day later he obtained a 90-day tourist visa for Pakistan and arrived in the country, via Karachi, on 4 September, a week before the attacks on New York and Washington.

Burgos’s Spanish passport was accompanied by a Moroccan identity card that corresponds with a spell she spent in that country before disappearing in 2001.

If authenticated, the documents provide stark proof of what western allies have insisted upon for years, but which the Pakistani officials have only recently accepted — that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan, touched on the subject in unusually blunt fashion on Friday.

“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,” she told journalists in Lahore. “May be that is the case. May be they are not gettable. I don’t know.”

Experts said German intelligence had long lost track of Bahaji. “He has barely been mentioned for years. The dates (on his passport) make sense, but these individuals often have a number of passports. However, it is perfectly possible that he is in that region,” said Rolf Tophoven, of the Essen-based Institute for Research on Terrorism and Security Policy.

Tophoven said sources in the German BND security agency estimate that 30 German militants are in the tribal areas.

Burgos, 34, comes from Madrid and converted to Islam after falling in love with Azizi. She fled Spain for Morocco in 2001; a year later the police intercepted an email in which she said she was headed for Pakistan’s tribal belt. “Azizi is a big fish,” said Rogelio Alonso, a terrorism expert at Rey Juan Carlos University, Madrid. “This is an interesting find.”
Militancy expert Peter Bergen of the New American Foundation said the fact that the passports were found in Taliban compounds showed how the two organisations had become “embedded with each other”.

The Guardian