Abu Faraj al-Libi and the Trail to Osama bin Laden

According to reports, we first started tracking the couriers who would ultimately lead us to Osama bin Laden over four years ago.

The stream of information that led to Sunday’s raid began over four years ago, when U.S. intelligence personnel were alerted about two couriers who were working with al Qaeda and had deep connections to top al Qaeda officials. Prisoners in U.S. custody flagged these two couriers as individuals who might have been helping bin Laden, one official said

“One courier in particular had our constant attention,” the official said. He declined to give that courier’s name but said he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a “trusted assistant” of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a former senior al Qaeda officer who was captured in 2005.

“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden,” the official said. The U.S. intelligence community uncovered the identity of this courier four years ago, and two years ago, the U.S. discovered the area of Pakistan this courier and his brother were working in.

In August 2010, the intelligence agencies found the exact compound where this courier was living, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The neighborhood is affluent and many retired Pakistani military officials live there.

The reference to Abu Faraj al-Libi is notable in this context for two reasons. He was one of the last High Value Detainees picked up. The Red Cross dates his capture to May 2, 2005 (though he appears to have been held in joint Pakistani-US custody for a time and his Detainee Assessment Brief says he was transferred to US custody on June 6, 2005), and of the HVDs moved to Gitmo in September 2006, he was the last to be picked up.

More interesting, though, are some details from his DAB. In 2003, OBL assigned al-Libi to be “the official messenger” between himself and others in Pakistan. And, apparently at that point, al-Libi moved with his family to Abbottabad, the city where OBL was found.

In July 2003, detainee received a letter from UBL’s designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan. UBL stated detainee would be the official messenger between UBL and others in Pakistan.12 In mid-2003, detainee moved his family to Abbottabad, PK and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.13

His DAB describes al-Libi providing intelligence on al Qaeda’s courier system.

Detainee reported on al-Qaida’s methods for choosing and employing couriers, as well preferred communication means.

And in May 2005 (when the Red Cross says he was captured), al-Libi said he was responsible for facilitating al Qaeda in “settled areas of Pakistan.”

In TD-314/37025-05, detainee stated of early May 2005, he was responsible for facilitation within the settled areas of Pakistan, communication with UBL and external links.

That all sounds suspiciously like the kind of portfolio that might include arranging for a custom-built mansion in Abbottabad for OBL’s family.

None of this means, of course, that al-Libi is the HVD who first IDed the courier who ultimately led to OBL. But it does seem like he was a likely source of that information.

  1. BoxTurtle says:

    Prediction: Obama will trumpet this as an example of enhanced interrogation working.

    Prediction: Nobody will notice that this was done without any of the information the government is currently collecting from warrentless wiretapping of American citizens.

    Prediction: Nobody will ask if OBL died in the firefight, committed suicide, or was simply executed on the spot.

    Boxturtle (Well, at least this got that darn royal wedding off the front page)

    • orionATL says:

      your point about the sources of information is extremely important.

      as ew writes, bin-laden was using couriers, not cell-phones.

      apparently, the compound was not wired for outside communication.

      i suspect executed (shot in the head, i read), most likely by sniper fire.

      that, and burial at sea, solved a lot of problems.

      bin-laden as a prisoner would have been a nightmare.

      i suspect these choices were made long before the raid occurred.

      they make perfect sense to me.

    • scribe says:

      Actually, reading between the lines of the reporting it seems fairly clear that bin Laden was executed on the spot after the firefight, not that he died during the firefight. No need to use long-range snipers, either. The compound isn’t that big and it was a 45 minute firefight (a very long time, as firefights go). No, someone went up to him and gave him two between the eyes, probably from the Utah State Pistol.

      So let’s set that one aside – I’m not surprised that he was whacked. Can you imagine what the coverage would be like if, say, he’d been captured, shipped to Bagram then flown to JFK and hauled into the SDNY for arriagnment? As I recall it, he was under indictment for the Kenyan (uh-oh) Embassy bombings. After a day or two of rumors flying around, Obama gets up to announce “Osama bin Laden is in US custody. We snuck him into New York and he is presently before a federal judge in New York City being arraigned on murder charges brought pursuant to an indictment….”

      Other than Peter King leading one of the lynch mobs down to Foley Square, I mean.

      Obama doesn’t have to trumpet Gitmo and torture as having brought this to fruition – the Pentagon is doing it for him, unprompted. And McCaffery was on early-early talking about how the courier would have been tracked for months under constant surveillance by our drones, another instance of the MIC plumping its resume/pulling its lapels so as to guarantee continued budgets.

      • BoxTurtle says:

        I read the published reports as an execution as well. But I do note that nobody is asking (yet) for details.

        I also note the following:

        1) No mention of prisoners taken. You’d think they’d at least have kept the couriers.

        2) No mention of survivors. Wonder how many died with a bullet to the head.

        3) No body count. Perhaps the number of dead wouldn’t match the number of occupants.

        4) No mention of any intelligence gathered. Does anybody believe that the place wasn’t searched? Or that it was searched and nothing was found?

        5) Notice how they blew the place up? Almost as if we were covering something up.

        Boxturtle (And did they bury just the body and mail the head to Dick?)

        • emptywheel says:

          Marc Ambinder says 22 killed or captured.

          Which, given the reports of 4 killed, would suggest 18 captured. And there are reports that his wife and kids (aside from the son and the woman who were killed) were arrested.

          • BoxTurtle says:

            He seems to be the first with that number, he must be a privileged leakee.

            I wonder if the prisoners have been given access to the Red Cross or a lawyer? Stop laughing, dammit.

            I can’t watch the darn video here, I’ll have to get home to see it.

            Boxturtle (Prediction: Tactically driven government leaks for the next 30 days)

          • orionATL says:

            “… his wife and kids…”

            hey, this guy’s a muslim; shouldn’t that be plural.

          • allan says:

            Marc Ambinder is the new Tom Clancy:

            done in by a double tap — boom, boom — to the left side of his face.

            Color me skeptical.

          • scribe says:

            18 people and 4 bodies is more than you can stuff into a Blackhawk (and hope for it to fly).

            So, to have extracted those captives (and there’s no way they just left them there) and the bodies and the physical intel material (Computers, etc. – they probably cleaned out the house of anything looking lke a computer or paper) and get the assault team out they would have had several alternatives (I’m not choosing which):

            1. they used CH-53 type helicopters and managed to fit everyone and everything into one

            2. they had a spare helicopter or two floating around out there waiting, in case something went wrong, and used that to help getting everyone/everything out

            3. they had a box truck or two (or equivalent) waitng in the neighborhood and moved part (or all) of the captures out that way.

            As to 1.: The thing about using CH-53 helicopters is that they are both unmistakeable and huge. And very noisy. But, they can carry that number of people and stuff and have amazing range – to start the Afghan war they flew from ships in the Persian Gulf all the way to Afghanistan.

            As to 2.: This would make perfect sense. One of the lessons learned from the failed attempt to rescue the Iran hostages was the need to minimize reliance on any particular helicopter, because they fail. The simplest way to pull that off is to have spares allocated to the mission and nearby, even if they are not immediately needed.

            As to 3.: This would be the ultimate fall-back (short of hot-wiring one of bin Laden’s cars), so one can assume it was made available and the trucks/drivers have faded into the background by now.

            • perris says:

              holy crap

              the ONLY picture of bin laden in that slide show is an old grainey black and white CLEARLY taken years before

              like they couldn’t take a picture of him along with the other shots?

              • emptywheel says:

                Pretty sure one of the advantages of “burial at sea” from the govt’s perspective is it prevents anyone from doing forensics work on the wounds to OBL’s head, thereby preventing any determination whether OBL was killed in a firefight, or execution style.

                So we’ll see whether they ever released any pictures of him.

                • harpie says:

                  Craig Murray says he saw a photo on France 24, [but doesn’t link to it]

                  He Who Lives By The Sword; 5/2/11

                  […] There are questions to be asked about why Osama Bin Laden was killed rather than captured, when he would evidently be such a valuable intelligence asset. There are aspects of the official story which do not add up. I have seen the photo of his body on France 24, and plainly he was killed by a head shot; if you have to shoot someone you are trying to capture, you do not go for the head. Secondly we are told that he could not be captured because there was a fierce firefight of resistance at the house; but that no Americans were injured. So not that fierce, then. Aside from Osama Bin Laden, only two men and one woman were killed – so again, hardly a great pitched battle. The building was then torched, destrying the forensic evidence.

                  If Bin Laden did not kill himself, or get one of his own men to shoot him, it remains open to question why he was taken out with a headshot in a situation where resistance had been so ineffective that no American had been hurt. […]

        • papau says:

          probably just a coincidence…..

          An Emptywheel phrase from one of the morning’s posts

          A lot of that in 9/11 – from 3 “white guys” (CIA? or just MIC folks or just some rich light skin colored relatives?) visiting Osama in his hospital bed (Kidney) before 9/11 to bldg 7 falling down for no apparent reason to the no survivors/testimony from this raid.

          Now I know a few in intel, and there is no way these CIA field folks and home office folks are in the pay of the MIC, or would allow themselves to be used by the MIC, but it is interesting that Osama told folks that the plan was to make the US bankrupt by MIC spending. And that if getting out of Afghanistan is to be a June announcement, the Osama problem had to be dealt with first.

          I was impressed with the 12 hour DNS turnaround – just about right for DNA brought to a stable platform analysis area (the gel analysis machine doesn’t like bumps from planes and boats).

          Meanwhile I sure wish there was more on the intel we recovered, if any. Who are we protecting now is always interesting. But I did like Pakistan pretending it was a joint operation – on a home built a few hundred metters from their “West Point” :-)

          Last time Clinton did trust them about his missile strike on the training ground hitting in 30 minutes – and we find Osama got a phone call from ISI and had left the area 20 minutes before the missiles hit. Wonder why Hillary advised against telling the Pakistani folks anything? /s

      • orionATL says:

        mccaffrey, eh, would that have been gen barry mccaffrey,

        the dod’s courier to corporate television news?

        i’d like to see the drone that could track a car thru the congestion of islamabad or new delhi,

        or did the cia magically implant a tracking device in the courier one night while he was sleeping.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          That drone exists and it’s actually not difficult to program. Once you’ve locked onto a car you won’t lose it unless it goes undercover. And then you have enough data recorded to identify it when it comes out.

          The original program was designed to track an individual salmon from the bottom of a fish ladder to the top.

          Boxturtle (Though I do not rule out the magic implant)

          • reddog says:

            “The original program was designed to track an individual salmon from the bottom of a fish ladder to the top.”

            Boxturtle, you are mixing up apples and oranges. Do you know what a PIT tag is (think RFID)? That is how they track salmon up a ladder, and the range is very short (the receiver is a plate that the fish swim across). PIT tags are implanted into fingerling salmon before release from the hatchery and stay with them for life. Or, they can capture the adult fish, shove a transducer down its gullet and release it. This transducer has a much greater range and the receiver antenna looks just like the old TV antennas.

            • papau says:

              true – but “lock on” to an image is possible, so tracking through the streets is possible – but I suspect picking back up if lost in a move behind a building or into a tunnel would be difficult.

            • BoxTurtle says:

              That’s how they do it now. With the first fish ladders, they used cameras and a computer program identify the fish individually. It didn’t work real well, but it gave enough data to show the ladders were working.

              I worked with some data from that program around 1982. Only reason I know.

              Boxturtle (This was NOT real time tracking, film was processed afterward)

        • scribe says:

          No, you just shoot video and shoot video and shoot video and then analyze it to death until you find the car you lost. You don’t have to be doing this in real-time until the time you decide to go and put people, as opposed to drones, on the scene. I’m sure the USG has put something akin to gigapan into their drones, i.e., a monstrous super camera that can, for example, take a panoramic photo – good enough for id purposes – of every face in the crowd at Obama’s inaugural.

        • scribe says:

          The report I read said 45, though that could easily have been a typo. Even so, 4-5 minutes is still a long firefight and I’d expect bin Laden would not have had enough ammunition right at hand to keep one going much longer than that. One could easily go through a couple sandbags full of clips for your AK in 4-5 minutes, if you were willing to deal with an overheated barrel. (And who wouldn’t be, in a fight for yer life?)

          Somehow, though, I still suspect Osama was a bit of a poseur when it came to weapons-handling. The short-barrelled, extra-long clip AK-type weapon he was photoed with stuck me as the extra-macho kind of thing a guy like him would pick up, when a generic AK just wouldn’t do for image purposes.

  2. perris says:

    I remember how every once in a while a new osama tape that was “authenticated” as from bin laden would turn up

    only to be discredited in a short while

    now we have “authentication” and immediate burial at sea”

    scuse me, not convinced this actually happened as reported

    • papau says:

      The frozen body theory? – yes – could be

      A lot thought that later tapes were NSA produced gifts to the CIA.

      And dead guy, apart from being tall, had few identity markers that needed to be replicated.

      But that would be a conspiracy – and the Seals might leak info in the future – although the pilots at Otis Air Force based leaked that they had orders to not intercept and take down only for the first couple of hours after landing – the orders to shut up about Cheney refusing to order the shoot down post 9/11 were followed for the next decade – even the Congressional testimony was said with a straight face as they told Congress how 1400 miles per hour interceptors only flew at 450 miles an hour and thus arrived late in NYC.

      But frozen bodies take people who know about them – and you can not just kill your 2nd level tech folks and replace with new – this is not the Mafia! And indeed I do not buy the frozen body – DNA available at a moments notice – idea.

  3. felicity says:

    And Trump will say that the burial at sea was a cover-up. binLaden was not killed. Trump’s ‘people’ did not see the dead body, therefore there wasn’t one.

    However this event metastisizes, and it certainly will, the 3 stooges (Bush, Cheney and Rummy) will ultimately be spun by their fellow stooges (Republican politicians) into having played a key role, if not the only meaningful role, in the entire caper.

  4. noblejoanie says:

    Speaking of intelligence, one would have thought OBL would be a treasure trove, more valuable alive than dead.

    Messy, though, to admit we have him in custody.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I’m thinking that his overall political risk was deemed greater than any intelligence value he might have had. Thus shot while resisting.

      Boxturtle (Though I do not rule out that we’ve got him alive. We have only ObamaLLP’s word that he’s dead)

    • croghan27 says:

      Yes, nobleJ ….. let him suffer death … death by 10,000 historians. (Felt the same wat about Saddam too).

      • orionATL says:

        that is fascinating.

        what a delightful sense of humor the guy has (must hide my giant helicopter fly swatter).

    • scribe says:

      It’s a rough neighborhood, or near one. When I was in law school, living in a large city in the later days of the first wave of the crack epidemic/wars, at night we’d be able to hear the (machine)gun battles between rival dealers a mile or so away and learned which sidewalks to avoid b/c car chases sometimes jumped those curbs.

      That, or the locals knew better than to call the cops or they knew this day would come. I mean, when one of bin Laden’s sons comes over to borrow the hedge trimmer, you learn to do like Dr. Cusamano did when he moved in next to Tony Soprano – look the other way and leave them alone lest you get dragged into their world

  5. allan says:

    Feel the love:
    Pakistani Ambassador: America Can’t Find Whitey Bulger,
    So Why Do You Expect Us to Locate Bin Laden?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      In fairness, he has a point.

      Boxturtle (Abby Hoffman’s photo with Pres. Carter while a fugitive is a classic)

  6. Surtt says:

    “immediate burial at sea

    Let the conspiracy theories begin.

    Even something like this,
    they manage to put a dark cloud over it.

    • harpie says:

      From that Reuters link [which is from sihlkee at GG’s thread]:

      […] Fearful of revenge attacks, the United States swiftly issued security warnings to Americans worldwide. A top Republican lawmaker briefed by the White House on bin Laden’s death said U.S. security agencies were working to prevent any attacks on the United States or its installations overseas.

      “This is a key moment because al Qaeda has to avenge. This is a terrible defeat for them and they have to move as quickly as they can, and it’s up to us to stop them,” said congressman Peter King. […]

    • scribe says:

      The article is fairly explicit in saying it was a “kill not capture” operation.

      What this means, then, is that Obama has fully embraced the Rethuglian way of doing things and completed the rejection of the Rule of Law, turning what could have been a “good” thing into just another way station on the road to tyranny.

      IF this had been an operation to capture bin Laden, sure, trying him for his crimes would have been difficult. But, consider the collateral consequences of trying him.

      1. Anyone who raised the argument “ooga-booga terrists will come for us because we’re not going to kill the guy outright” could have been rightly exposed as cowards afraid of their own shadow. Democracy and freedom are not for cowards, and in freedom and democracy we give people their trials. Then we take them out back and execute them. (A takeoff on an old Texas saying). A trial (actually, he could have had numerous capital trials in federal court and several state courts) would have put our justice system on full display to the world and given it a chance to shine – even the most (allegedly) heinous man in the world gets a fair trial.

      2. Anyone who bothered to try to come forward to avenge bin Laden would have promptly been picked up. It would have been like when you hunt worms to go fishing – you go to the garden, jab a stick in the ground and shake. Responding to the vibration, the worms pop up above ground level and you just go pick them up.

      3. There would be no room for the conspiracy theorists. The folks denying bin Laden’s death because he was dumped at sea would have no argument – there he sits in the dock. The folks claiming 9/11 was an inside job would have little argument left – if/when his defense tried to raise it (a) the inevitable conviction would render its own verdict on that contention and (b) it would get a public hearing and an equally public rejection. Instead, less than a week after cutting the guts out of the Birthers by giving them their Holy Grail

      4. People who took a moment to consider the long view would realize that the last ten years – the prospect of eternal war, torture and all the rest – could have been an aberration or a new path to Hell, depending on how bin Laden was removed from the scene. By taking him into custody and trying, convicting and executing him, this chapter could have been closed as an aberration – a cruel one, but an aberration nonetheless.

      5. Any Rethug pol who criticized him or his handling could have been labelled as a thuggish Neanderthal.

      But, he took the opportunity and wasted it. So sad.

      • scribe says:

        Listening to Obama’s remarks at the ceremonies awarding the CMH posthumously to a pair of Korean War vets, it’s quite clear that he either doesn’t get it, or he deliberately chose to go down the road to eternal war and tyrrany. Because, singing in the streets because a man – called a criminal though never convicted – was executed without trial is nothing good.

        Interestingly, he praises Shinseki. One is compelled to wonder whether and to what extent Shinseki has been called on to give him military/policy advice.

    • bobschacht says:

      I also heard someone on the Toobs today say that they had permission *not* to kill him– IOW, they were given some discretion. I’ll bet, however, that the weight of discretion leaned in the direction of extermination.

      Bob in AZ

  7. alamode says:

    More proof that Guantanamo is invaluable

    The New York Times reports (emphasis added):

    As Obama administration officials described it, the real breakthrough came when they finally figured out the name and location of Bin Laden’s most trusted courier, whom the Qaeda chief appeared to rely on to maintain contacts with the outside world.

    Detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had given the courier’s pseudonym to American interrogators and said that the man was a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    American intelligence officials said Sunday night that they finally learned the courier’s real name four years ago, but that it took another two years for them to learn the general region where he operated.

    • nextstopchicago says:


      You could at least read before trolling. The very thread you’re commenting in already announced more than that – not just “guantanamo detainees” but which one and under what circumstances. Nobody thinks keeping some of the Gitmo detainees detained and interrogating them is wrong. It’s about three things – innocents detained; no due process to show your innocence; and torture. The first two points have little to do with al-Libi, for whom there was clearly enough information to keep holding him, under most any legal regime.

      As to point 3, it looks like al-Libi was probably not tortured. I believe we’ll get a fairly full understanding of the timeline over the next weeks, and I will read what comes out. I believe torture did terrible damage to our standing regardless of whether it brought enough information that we could finally track down bin-Laden 10 years later. Remember, the theory was that it would be useful in the event of a “ticking timebomb.” If you think timebombs tick for 9 years and 8 months …

      Another noteworthy piece of info – al-Libi was originally detained by ISI.

  8. Jeff Kaye says:

    If you are still following the Faraj Al-Libi angle, you might wish to also consider this tidbit from the DAB:

    In mid-April 2005, detainee began arranging for a store front to be used as a meeting place and drop point for messages he wanted to exchange with Abd al-Khaliq [UBL’s designated courier]. On 2 May 2005, while he was waiting to meet with Abd al-Khaliq in Mardan, Pakistani Special Forces arrested detainee.

    Did they trace al-Khaliq to Abbottabad from this store front? And if so, how long was that store front under surveillance? The fact that he was arrested by Pakistani SF so close to time of arranging the store front setting leads me to believe that he was closely watched, or something happened associated with the new meeting place.

  9. Garrett says:

    Detainee [al-Libi] met al-Qaida courier Abdirashid Aidid Samatar in Islamabad, PK at Abdallahi Sudi Arale’s, ISN DJ9SO-010027DP (SO-10027), house in May 2004.62
    Abu Faraj al-Libi

    Don’t know where this is going, but

    Al-Qaida courier and al-Ittahad al-Islami (AIAI) member Abdirashid Aidid Samatar, aka (Abdirashid Aidid Ahmad), identified detainee [Barre] as a personal friend of UBL. Ahmad stated detainee trained in Afghanistan and worked at UBL’s compound in Khartoum, SU from 1992 to 1995. Ahmad added detainee was a member of AIAI in Somalia. Detainee hired Abdirashid Aidid Samatar to transport money from the Dahabshiil Karachi office to Islamabad, PK.15

    Mohammed Soliman Barre

    Detainee’s alias (Abu Dujana Al-Sudani) also appears on a recent report given by Abdirashid Aidid Ahmed. Ahmed is a known Somali Al-Qaida courier, who was employed with Al Haramayn and was operating out of Pakistan around the same time frame detainee was working with WAMY.

    Adel Hassan

    Pakistani based al-Qaida courier Abdirashid Aidid Ahmad stated detainee [Guleed] and other Somalis stayed at the Kuwait Hostel in Islamabad before traveling to Khaldan,

    Hassan Guleed

    it looks like Samatar a.k.a. Ahmad a.k.a. Ahmed identified things, and stated things, and added things, and reported things, without having an ISN.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Oh yes! Very good. This courier, from whom DoD had a “recent report” in March 2005, is a very interesting intelligence source. It’s hard to believe, though, that even in internal docs the guy’s real name would be used if he were an asset. It’s possible that they had some eye into his doings. But then, everything in these docs must be looked at with a highly critical eye.

      Still, highly interesting. None of his names rings up anything on the ‘net.