What Pakistan's ISI doesn't want the world to know about Osama bin Laden's couriers

Residents of the couriers' hometown report being intimidated by intelligence agencies, which are under the spotlight today after a prominent Pakistani journalist was found dead.

By , Correspondent

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    This undated photo shows Pakistani journalist and Adnkronos International correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad. The Pakistani journalist who investigated Al Qaeda's alleged infiltration of the navy and told a rights activist he'd been threatened by the country's intelligence agencies was found dead in Islamabad on Tuesday, May 31.
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Osama bin Laden’s couriers, Arshad and Tariq Khan – who were killed alongside him during the raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan – were born and raised in Kuwait after their Pakistani father settled there to become an imam, according to relatives and other residents in their ancestral village.

The residents’ accounts, confirmed by a Pakistan security official, suggest the couriers may have become radicalized in Kuwait. Meanwhile, the residents also report being intimidated by intelligence agencies, which are under the spotlight today after a prominent Pakistani journalist has been found dead.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies swooped in to detain cousins and other close relatives of the couriers from Kotkai, a village in Pakistan’s mountainous Shangla district last week – weeks after Mr. bin Laden’s death on May 2. A similar raid in the city of Lahore picked up a handful of relatives.

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Residents in Kotkai say they were warned not to speak to the media about the people who were taken away, and many remain shaken by the events.

“We were visited by security officials last week and we were told we shouldn’t speak to the media," says a school teacher who asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisal. "People here are very afraid that they could be picked up next.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, residents and close relatives of the men told the Monitor that the men’s father, Manjoor Khan, migrated to Kuwait in 1970 to become an imam employed by Kuwait’s religious affairs department and changed his name to the more Arab-sounding Ahmad Syed al-Kuwaiti.

Previous reports have placed the Khan brothers, known to the neighbors in Abbottabad as the popular “Khan-jees,” as residents of Charsadda or the North Waziristan tribal region.

In addition to Arshad and Tariq, al-Kuwaiti fathered four more sons, one of whom, Ibrahim, returned to the village to get married some 15 years ago. The other brothers were said to have not returned.

Intimidation campaign

The intimidation effort is likely an attempt to minimize Pakistan's negative image in light of the bin Laden raid.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies inspire fear and respect among large segments of the population.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, when possible links to the terror attacks were being traced back to Pakistan, the village where lone surviving gunman Ajmal Kassab lived experienced a similar type of intimidation campaign.

Journalist killed

Today, veteran journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was found dead in his car after being missing for two days, following the publication of an investigative story into last week’s attacks on a naval base in Karachi in which he suggested a link between Al Qaeda and naval personnel.

In a note to Human Rights Watch last fall, Mr. Shahzad predicted that he might be detained by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. Shahzad wrote for Asia Times Online and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International.

Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, is calling for a full investigation. “The manner in which this killing took place echoes other documented cases in which Pakistan’s intelligence services, chiefly the ISI, have been involved,” he said.

“This only means this country is dangerous for anyone trying to work as a journalist," according to Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine. "Regardless of your professional standing, you are under threat. This is not the first time that agencies have been involved in intimidating journalists.”

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