|Monday, 10-Mar-2003 2:30PM|
ISLAMABAD, March 10 (AFP) - Pakistan's secretive intelligence agency opened its doors to foreign journalists Monday for an unprecented multi-media briefing on the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) invited some three dozen foreign journalists to its unmarked five-storey headquarters in the capital Islamabad to counteract what it called "flak" from the Western media over its contribution to the war on terrorism.
"For the first time we are exposing ourselves," a top ISI official said. Journalists, who were bussed to the ISI headquarters by information ministry officials, were instructed not to reveal the ISI officials' identities.
"This organisation is making tremendous efforts to counter terrorism ... but we're not getting our dues... ," he told the journalists.
"Rather we're getting a lot of flak particularly from the Western media."
In a 75-minute briefing top ISI officials showed a video of the dramatic pre-dawn March 1 raid that netted Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks and the attacks' financier, Saudi national Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.
They also showed clips from a separate video of Sheikh Mohammed's interrogation.
Three ISI officials present at the briefing described in detail the March 1 raid and elaborated on evidence found on Sheikh Mohammed and from his interrogations.
The capture of Sheikh Mohammed, described by ISI as al-Qaeda's "operational chief", is considered the biggest coup in the 18-month-old war on terrorism.
A "combination" of human and electronic intelligence led ISI and US intelligence officers to pinpoint Sheikh Mohammed in a private home in Rawalpindi city near Islamabad where he and al-Hawsawi were captured, they said.
US electronic surveillance of telephone calls was one factor, but it was backed up by human intelligence, the nature of which could not be revealed.
"It was not solely on electronic intelligence. It was a combination of both. "
The raid and capture was led "purely by ISI" the official said. However another official has told AFP that US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives were stationed outside the house during the raid.
Some 18 officers carried out the raid. They were shown in the video preparing for the raid, dressed in traditional shalwar kameez (long shirts over trousers) with bullet-proof vests on top.
The video of the raid showed some ISI agents scaling the garden wall of the house, others breaking open an iron gate, others bursting into the house and arresting an unidentified bearded man.
Agents are seen emptying bags and drawers and examining a computer as they collect evidence.
It also shows the arrest of a man whom the ISI officials identified as al-Hawsawi. His face was not shown, nor was the actual capture of Sheikh Mohammed.
"We almost recovered a full vehicle load of evidence from this house, which we are in the process of exploiting."
Items such as computer discs had been handed over to US intelligence agents for analysis, while the ISI held on to documents.
As a result of intelligence gathered, they believed they were significantly closer to catching bin Laden, who has eluded a massive manhunt for 18 months.
"From our intelligence gathering we feel that he is alive," an ISI official said.
Sheikh Mohammed was handed over to American agencies for interrogation immediately after his capture. Joint teams of US and Pakistani ISI investigators questioned him for three days before he was airlifted to a US detention center at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, other officials have said.
For the first two days Sheikh Mohammed was suffering a high fever and revealed nothing except his identity, the ISI official said.
"On the third day he started divulging information ... his associations with certain people inside Pakistan and outside Pakistan."
A grainy black and white video showed Sheikh Mohammed wrapped in a blanket sitting at a table opposite an unidentified interrogator in a bare room. The dialogue was inaudible.
Sheikh Mohammed told interrogators that he last met bin Laden in December, but said he did not know the location.
"KSM (Sheikh Mohammed) confirmed he met bin Laden in December," an ISI official said, but he doubted Sheikh Mohammed's credibility.