Sunday, January 22, 2012
1/22/2012 05:59:00 AM live news No comments
"Your son has been martyred," the voice said at the other end of the line. The man then hung up.
The end for Khan's youngest son, Aslam Awan, came when a drone piloted remotely from the United States fired a missile at a house along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Awan was among four people killed, U.S. officials said this week, describing Awan as an "external operations planner" for al-Qaida. British authorities say he was a member of a militant cell in northern England who had fought in Afghanistan.
The Jan. 10 strike in the militant stronghold of North Waziristan that killed Awan was a victory for the CIA-led drone program at time when relations between Washington and Islamabad are very strained, in part by the missile strikes. It was one of the first drone attacks after a hiatus of some six weeks following a friendly fire incident in which U.S. forces killed 24 Pakistani border troops, nearly leading to a severing of ties with Islamabad.
The drone attacks generate anti-American sentiment inside Pakistan, but have been credited with significantly weakening al-Qaida in one of its global hubs.
For his family, the call came as a final curt word about the fate of a son they had heard little from in over a year.
Awan grew up in the northwestern Pakistani town of Abbottabad, a few kilometers away from the house where Osama bin Laden was slain. His father worked in a bank in Britain in the 70s and then in Abbottabad until he retired a few years ago. His four other sons remain in Britain, where they have prospered — one is a surgeon, another is a doctor, the third an engineer and the fourth is a banker.
It seems doubtful Awan had any contact with bin Laden in the town. But Awan's background here reinforces a striking association between this well-ordered, wealthy Pakistani army town and al-Qaida militants, which began before bin Laden was killed here in May last year when a team of American commandos flew in from Afghanistan.
Now 75 and recovering from a heart operation, Khushal Khan answered questions Saturday from an Associated Press reporter in the garden of his house, making the most of some winter sun. He defended his son's memory against charges of militancy.
"I don't believe this is true, my son was not indulging in these things," he said. "It can't be correct."
Khan said Awan followed his brothers' footsteps and went to Britain in 2002 on a student visa.
Awan lived in Manchester for four years, during which time he joined a militant cell that aimed to bring Muslims to Pakistan for militant training, according to prosecutors at the time and a British media report. He told his father he was studying at Manchester University, but it's unclear whether he ever graduated.
The cell was headed by a British al-Qaida commander called Rangzieb Ahmed who was captured in Pakistan in 2006 and sent for trial in Britain, where he was sentenced to life in prison for directing terrorism, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph.
A letter he wrote a to a longtime friend and fellow Pakistani, Abdul Rahman, rhapsodized over the "fragrance of blood" from the battlefield of jihad and his commitment to militancy, according to prosecutors in the trial of Rahman, who was sentenced to six years in jail in 2007 for spreading terrorist propaganda in Manchester. It apparently referred to a stint fighting jihad in Afghanistan, but when that occurred is not known.
The judge said then Awan was believed to have left England for Afghanistan.
"Awan was very well connected to known extremists in the UK. It highlights that the threat is still there," said Valentina Soria, a terrorism researcher at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. "This group were not just wannabes, they were active and with links to al-Qaida central."(...)More.