Posts Tagged ‘ Morocco ’

U.S. Had Warnings on Plotter of Mumbai Attack

By Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thompson for The New York Times

Less than a year before terrorists killed at least 163 people in Mumbai, India, a young Moroccan woman went to American authorities in Pakistan to warn them that she believed her husband, David C. Headley, was plotting an attack.

It was not the first time American law enforcement authorities were warned about Mr. Headley, a longtime informer in Pakistan for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration whose roots in Pakistan and the United States allowed him to move easily in both worlds.

Two years earlier, in 2005, an American woman who was also married to the 50-year-old Mr. Headley told federal investigators in New York that she believed he was a member of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba created and sponsored by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.

Despite those warnings by two of his three wives, Mr. Headley roamed far and wide on Lashkar’s behalf between 2002 and 2009, receiving training in small-caliber weapons and countersurveillance, scouting targets for attacks, and building a network of connections that extended from Chicago to Pakistan’s lawless northwestern frontier.

Then in 2008, it was his handiwork as chief reconnaissance scout that set the stage for Lashkar’s strike against Mumbai, an assault intended to provoke a conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries, Pakistan and India.

An examination of Mr. Headley’s movements in the years before the bombing, based on interviews in Washington, Pakistan, India and Morocco, shows that he had overlapping, even baffling, contacts among seemingly disparate groups — Pakistani intelligence, terrorists, and American drug investigators.

Those ties are rekindling concerns that the Mumbai bombings represent another communications breakdown in the fight against terrorism, and are raising the question of whether United States officials were reluctant to dig deeper into Mr. Headley’s movements because he had been an informant for the D.E.A.

More significantly, they may indicate American wariness to pursue evidence that some officials in Pakistan, its major ally in the war against Al Qaeda, were involved in planning an attack that killed six Americans.

The Pakistani government has insisted that its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, a close partner of the C.I.A., did not know of the attack. The United States says it has no evidence to counter this, though officials acknowledge that some current or retired ISI officers probably played some role.

It is unclear what United States officials did with the warnings they had gotten about Mr. Headley, who has pleaded guilty to the crimes and is cooperating with authorities, or whether they saw them as complaints from wives whose motives might be colored by strained relations with their husband.

Federal officials say that the State Department and the F.B.I. investigated the warnings they received about Mr. Headley at the time, but that they could not confirm any connections between him and Lashkar-e-Taiba. D.E.A. officials have said they ended their association with him at the end of 2001, at least two months before Mr. Headley reportedly attended his first terrorist training. But some Indian officials say they suspect that Mr. Headley’s contacts with the American drug agency lasted much longer.

The investigative news organization ProPublica reported the 2005 warning from Mr. Headley’s American former wife on its Web site and in the Saturday issue of The Washington Post. By ProPublica’s account, she told the authorities that Mr. Headley boasted about working as an American informant while he trained with Lashkar.

On Saturday, Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement, “The United States regularly provided threat information to Indian officials in 2008 before the attacks in Mumbai.” He also said, “Had we known about the timing and other specifics related to the Mumbai attacks, we would have immediately shared those details with the government of India.”

Mr. Headley’s American wife was not the only one to come forward. The Moroccan wife described her separate warnings in an interview with The New York Times. Interviews with United States and allied intelligence and security officials illustrate his longstanding connections to American law enforcement and the ISI:

¶ An officer of the Pakistani spy agency handed Mr. Headley $25,000 in early 2006 to open an office and set up a house in Mumbai to be used as a front during his scouting trips, according to Mr. Headley’s testimony to Indian investigators in Chicago in June. As part of Mr. Headley’s plea agreement, Indian investigators were allowed to interview him in Chicago, where he was arrested in October 2009. ¶ The ISI officer who gave Mr. Headley the cash, known as Major Iqbal, served as the supervisor of Lashkar’s planning, helping to arrange a communications system for the attack, and overseeing a model of the Taj Mahal Hotel, according to Mr. Headley’s testimony to the Indians.

¶ While working for Lashkar, which has close ties to the ISI, Mr. Headley was also enlisted by the Pakistani spy agency to recruit Indian agents to monitor Indian troop levels and movements, an American official said.

Besides Mr. Headley’s guilty plea in a United States court, seven Pakistani suspects have been charged there. American investigators say a critical figure who has not been charged is Sajid Mir, a Lashkar operative who became close to Mr. Headley as the plans for the Mumbai operation unfolded. The investigators fear he is still working on other plots.

Mr. Headley was known both to Pakistani and American security officials long before his arrest as a terrorist. He went to an elite military high school in Pakistan. After arrests in 1988 and 1997 on drug-trafficking charges, Mr. Headley became such a valued D.E.A. informant that the drug agency sent him back and forth between Pakistan and the United States. In several interviews in her home, Mr. Headley’s Moroccan wife, Faiza Outalha, described the warnings she gave to American officials less than a year before gunmen attacked several popular tourist attractions in Mumbai. She claims she even showed the embassy officials a photo of Mr. Headley and herself in the Taj Mahal Hotel, where they stayed twice in April and May 2007. Hotel records confirm their stay.

Ms. Outalha, 27, said that in two meetings with American officials at the United States Embassy in Islamabad, she told the authorities that her husband had many friends who were known members of Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said she told them that he was passionately anti-Indian, but that he traveled to India all the time for business deals that never seemed to amount to much.

And she said she told them Mr. Headley assumed different identities: as a devout Muslim who went by the name Daood when he was in Pakistan, and as an American playboy named David, when he was in India.

“I told them, he’s either a terrorist, or he’s working for you,” she recalled saying to American officials at the United States Embassy in Islamabad. “Indirectly, they told me to get lost.”

Though there are lots of gaping holes left in Mr. Headley’s public profile, the one thing that is clear is he assumed multiple personas.

He was born in the United States, the son of a Pakistani diplomat and a socialite from Philadelphia’s Main Line. When he was about a year old, his parents took him to Pakistan, where he attended the Hasan Abdal Cadet College, the country’s oldest military boarding school, just outside of Islamabad.

Mr. Headley’s parents divorced. And before he finished high school, he moved to Philadelphia to help his American mother run a bar, called the Khyber Pass. Later he opened a couple of video rental stores.

But at the same time he was involved in a life of crime. Each time he was arrested on drug trafficking charges, he used his roots in the United States and Pakistan to make himself as valuable an asset to law enforcement as he was to the traffickers; one with the looks and passports to move easily across borders, and the charisma to penetrate secretive organizations.

He was married at least three times. For one period he was married to all three wives — Ms. Outalha, who is a medical student half his age, a New York makeup artist, and a conservative Pakistani Muslim — at the same time.

Those relationships, however, caused him trouble. In 2005, his American wife filed domestic abuse charges against Mr. Headley, according to federal investigators in New York, and reported his ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba. The investigators said the tip was passed on to the F.B.I.’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Then in December 2007, Ms. Outalha talked her way into the heavily guarded American Embassy in Islamabad. She went back a month later with more information. A senior administration official acknowledged that Ms. Outalha met twice with an assistant regional security officer and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer at the embassy. However, the administration official said Ms. Outalha offered almost no details to give credibility to her warnings.

“The texture of the meeting was that her husband was involved with bad people, and they were planning jihad,” the official said. “But she gave no details about who was involved, or what they planned to target.”

Given that she had been jilted, Ms. Outalha acknowledged she may not have been composed. “I wanted him in Guantánamo,” she said. More than that, however, Ms. Outalha says, she went to American authorities looking for answers to questions about Mr. Headley’s real identity. In public he criticized the United States for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But at night he loved watching “Seinfeld” and Jay Leno.

Sipping tea in a cafe overlooking a plaza in Morocco, Ms. Outalha said that in hindsight, she is convinced that he is both men. She claims to be puzzled that American officials did not heed her warning.

“I told them anything I could to get their attention,” she said of the American authorities at the embassy in Islamabad. “It was as if I was shouting, ‘This guy was a terrorist! You have to do something.’ ”

Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims

By Louisa Lim for National Public Radio

It is 5:50 in the morning, and dark shadows scurry through narrow alleys to the mosque, as the call to prayer echoes from a minaret in Kaifeng. This city in central China’s Henan province has an Islamic enclave, where Muslims have lived for more than 1,000 years.

In an alleyway called Wangjia hutong, women go to their own mosque, where Yao Baoxia leads prayers. For 14 years, Yao has been a female imam, or ahong as they are called here, a word derived from Persian.

As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam. “The status is the same,” Yao says confidently. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.”                                        

Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers. Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers.

China has an estimated 21 million Muslims, who have developed their own set of Islamic practices with Chinese characteristics. The biggest difference is the development of independent women’s mosques with female imams, something scholars who have researched the issue say is unique to China.

Yao studied to become an imam for four years, after being laid off from her job as a factory worker. First she studied under a female imam, then with a male imam alongside male students.

Her main role is as a teacher, she says. “When people come to pray, they don’t know how to chant the Quran, so my job is teaching people about Islam, helping them to study one line at a time and leading the prayers,” she says.

Mosques Began As Quranic Schools

The modest courtyard of Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque contains within it the entire history of China’s mosques for females. It’s the oldest surviving women’s mosque in China, with one gray plaque high up on a wall dating back to 1820.

Like other women’s mosques, it began as a Quranic school for girls. These sprang up in the late 17th century in central China, including Shanxi and Shandong provinces. They morphed into women’s mosques about 100 years ago, starting in Henan province. Remembering her own childhood, 83-year-old Tang Guiying says even then the women’s mosque was the only place a girl could receive education.

“I didn’t go to school when I was small,” she chuckles. “We were all too poor; none of us girls studied. But I came here to play and study. The old imam was very, very old — she was 80-something, and she had bound feet.”

Tang is sitting in the mosque’s washroom as she talks. This is where women conduct ritual ablutions before prayer. This space — and the mosque itself — doubles as a social center for these women, the heart of a community. In Kaifeng, there are 16 women’s mosques, one-third the number of mosques for males.

A Unique Chinese Tradition

Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of a book on the phenomenon, says that so far there are no women’s mosques in other countries. In most of the Muslim world, women pray behind a partition or in a separate room, but in the same mosque as men.

Shui points out that the women’s mosques in China are administered independently, by women for women, in addition to being legally separate entities in some cases. “After reform and opening up [in 1979], some female mosques registered independently, which shows the equality of male and female mosques,” she explains.

Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders.

China is the only country to have such a long history of female imams. However, there are things that, according to the customary practices of Chinese Muslims, female imams can’t do.

They can’t, for instance, lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses. Forty miles away in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, white-sashed mourners wail as they process through the streets carrying the coffin from a mosque. No female imams are participating.

Opposition Still Exists To Women’s Roles

In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences.

“Historically in northwestern China, there were no female mosques,” says Shui, the researcher. “There was resistance because people thought that building female mosques was against the rules of religion. But in central China and most provinces, people think it’s a good innovation for Islam.”

In the past decade, some women’s mosques have been established in northwest China. The phenomenon appears to be spreading, helped politically by the Islamic Association of China, a state-controlled body that regulates Islam and issues licenses to practice to male and female imams alike.

This is part of the anomaly that is religion in China — the atheist Chinese authorities are endorsing a practice some Muslims find unacceptable. While there is broad support among Kaifeng’s Muslims for female mosques and imams, there is also some opposition.

“The education of Islamic women is a very important job,” says Guo Baoguang, of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng. But he admits that he has been criticized for organizing religious education forums for Muslim men and women to take part in together.

“There were some criticisms that women ought to be in the home, and ought not take part in social activities. I think these criticisms are too conservative, and don’t account of the importance of women’s education in Islam,” he says.

Guo believes that when it comes to female imams, China is leading the way.”Given the fast development of China’s economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world,” Guo says. “The developments Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslims elsewhere in the world.”

Greatest Challenge Is Economic

In the women’s mosques, most of the faithful are elderly. Young women with families often don’t have the time to worship, especially given the lengthy purification rituals several times a day.

Third-generation imam Sun Chengying, who has been practicing for 21 years, worries about the future.

“I haven’t had any students since 1996,” she says, shaking her head. “Women don’t want be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it.”

Female imams sometimes earn as little as $40 a month, one-third of what can be earned in other jobs. Younger women need to earn more to support their families. And so it appears the future of female imams in China is threatened — not by the state, not by resistance from inside Islam, but by the forces of market economics.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Chinese Muslim female imams are unique to China but this practice of allowing female imams is one that should be encouraged throughout the Muslim world. Female imams as well as increased rights for women in Islam across the board will only help strengthen Muslim societies.

%d bloggers like this: