Thursday, May 5, 2011

Umar Patek, Osama bin Laden and Abbottabad: Mere Coincidence?

In the relatively near future I'll post my thoughts on Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of US Special Forces, but those of you who have been following the story have probably picked up on the fact that considerable tension that exists between the US and Pakistan. What you may not have heard is that on January 25th of this year, another high profile terrorist, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad, Pakistan -- that's right, the same town where bin Laden was found hiding -- this time by Pakistani authorities.

Patek is a senior member of the Jemaah Islamiya (JI) terrorist organization based in Indonesia. For the last 10 years he has been the target of an international manhunt for his role in the October 2002 Bali bombings that left 202 people dead. After the Bali bombing, Patek decamped for the southern Philippines where he was provided sanctuary, first by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF -- the group needs to work on a new acronym) until it began peace talks with the Philippine government, and then by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the group that kidnapped the Christian missionaries, Martin and Gracia Burnham. While in the Philippines, Patek was implicated in several bombings and also helped provide training to JI members and other militants from Indonesia. Patek apparently snuck back into Indonesia in 2010, shortly after the 2009 death of Noordin Mohammed Top, but he and his wife fled to Pakistan (via Thailand) shortly after Indonesian authorities raided a terrorist training camp in Ache, Indonesia, that led to the arrest of 100 individuals. After arriving in Pakistan, Patek and his wife were provided shelter in an apartment where they lived a quiet life until his arrest in January.

Indonesia sent a team to Pakistan to arrange for Patek’s extradition, but they haven't even been able to interrogate him let alone arrange for his transport back home. Pakistan has said that it would eventually return him to Indonesia, but it has been dragging its feet and some Pakistani authorities have expressed their desire to indict and try him in Pakistan first. Pakistan has also made it clear that it would rather not turn Patek over to the CIA, primarily because of the fallout after the CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, killed two two men in Lahore, Pakistan, following what Davis said was an attempted armed robbery.

All of this raises a number of interesting questions:
  1. Is it merely a coincidence that two of the world's most sought after terrorists both decided to seek refuge in the same town in Pakistan?
  2. Isn't it something of a stretch to believe that Pakistani officials were able to learn of Patek's presence in Abbottabad while remaining completely ignorant of bin Laden's, especially considering the fact that Patek did as little as possible to attract attention to himself while bin Laden was building a heavily-fortified mansion? (British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament it was unbelievable that the Pakistani authorities did not know that Bin Laden was hiding so close to Pakistan's capital).
  3. If it isn't a stretch, then what does that say about Pakistan's intelligence capabilities?
  4. Why have Pakistani authorities yet to turn Patek over to Indonesian authorities?
Is it any wonder that the US didn't inform the Pakistan government about the impending operation against bin Laden? I think not. My guess is that they believed that if they did, there was a good chance that bin Laden would be tipped off and "do a bunk" (to paraphrase Professor McGonagall) before the Navy Seals arrived. And they certainly didn't want that to happen.

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