Jihad: A belief that Islam will be spread worldwide through a ‘holy war.’
Early May 2008
He stepped around some of the heavy growth of a huge, opium poppy field in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province. His hands moved back and forth, side to side, to clear a path for himself through four-foot high flowering plants. Then he stopped and gazed over the verdant field.
Gray-bearded, turbaned men, their scarred and wrinkled faces burnt deep-brown by the sun, handled spatula-like knives to scrape out a creamy, lactose-like substance from unripe seed pods. Children in tattered clothes and women in full-length, powder-blue burqas walked behind the old men collecting the poppy bud “juice.” They did not recognize the tall, bearded man brushing by them as they worked.
Abu Mahmoud Rahman walked by a wizened old man, who gently squeezed a bulbous poppy bud between his calloused thumb and index finger. An opaque, pinkish-white paste sprinkled with minute flecks of gray matter oozed from the cutting. It was opium in its purest form.
The stranger made his way to the edge of the field, scratched his graying beard. He tried to calculate how much the crop was worth in American dollars. This small field of some twenty hectares, he figured, would easily bring at least $100,000 into the Jihadist Front’s treasury.
The Jihadist Front harvested opium poppies from some seventy other fields of similar size throughout the province that bordered Pakistan to the south. Some of the annual harvest was shipped west in Toyota sports-utility vehicles and pick-up trucks to Iran. The remainder would be trucked to the port at Karachi, Pakistan.
An army of Jihadist Front dealers made arrangements for transshipment of the raw opium from Iran through Turkey, where it would be processed into pure heroin. The eventual destination of the shipment was Berlin. At an underground storehouse in Spandau, it would be cut and packaged. Smugglers would distribute the packages to dealers in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Shipments heading to Karachi were refined into heroin at labs in Qandahar, packaged and tied into plastic-wrapped bundles of five kilos each. Bundles in sealed wood crates were hidden beneath stolen United Nations grain shipments carried in two-ton trucks. The six-wheel Volvos maneuvered through mountain passes and over long stretches of dirt roads from Qandahar to the Pakistan border town of Chaman. The trucks crossed without stopping and continued their journey. Border guards had been bribed in advance. Three days later the bundles were offloaded at night in a fetid alley way behind an abandoned two-story warehouse on the Karachi docks. Each package was quickly re-wrapped in durable American-made trash bags and then stuffed into half-filled bags of Pakistani-manufactured, powdery gray cement. Crews topped off the bags with shovels-full of cement before sending them through a machine that sewed the tops with heavy-duty fishing line. Another crew stacked the canvas bags on pallets, fifty bags to a pallet.
At dawn, forklift crews hoisted the pallets and loaded them into truck-size containers. The containers were locked and then marked in code on the outside with red spray paint. Huge dock cranes lifted the containers, slowly swinging them over and lowering them into the S.S. Hyderabad’s bow, mid-ship and stern holds. The destination: port of Long Beach in southern California. The ship was scheduled to arrive in three to four weeks.
The Jihadist Front used only a very small percentage of its proceeds from the sale of raw opium and refined heroin to buy food, clothing and shelter for its thousands of followers living throughout Afghanistan. Most of the $3 billion in annual profits went to buy weapons and military equipment.
Abu Mahmoud managed the entire weapons-buying operation through the use of two satellite phones and teams of couriers that traveled by truck, car and horseback to arms dealers in Dushanbe in Tajikistan, the border of this former Soviet republic wrapping around Afghanistan’s northern frontier. The Tajiks procured American dollars and pounds Sterling from a Jihadist Front account to purchase heavy weapons from Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Dealers in Iran and Pakistan supplied the bulk of the Front’s small-arms weapons and ammunition.
The Front’s profits from the sale of raw opium and heroin are deposited into a single account at a Pakistan National Bank branch in Quetta. Abu Mahmoud established the account ten years before the Taliban began their rule of Afghanistan in 1996. Heavily armed Jihadist mujahidin have guarded the bank branch ever since, inside and out, day and night, seven days a week. Every bank customer has to pass through security screening before entering and leaving the bank. Arms dealers wanting to do business with the Front have to have authorized individual accounts at the Quetta bank. Funds for weapons purchases are transferred electronically from the Front’s account to an individual dealer’s account. Dealers who want their money transmitted to a bank elsewhere in the world or request cash upfront are dropped immediately as clients, and blacklisted.
In a coded language of Pashto, Arabic or English, Abu Mahmoud alone has the authority to disperse funds from the Jihadist Front account for all weapons’ purchases.
Two 450-feet long freighters, with bridges at the stern, three derricks each on the foredecks
above four cargo holds, sat in dry dock. They were the last of seven ships for one client, the Jihadist
Front, to undergo refitting and repainting, their hulls bow to stern in matte black. The five others were out of dry dock and at anchor in the harbor. Each Pakistani-flagged ship was Liberian registered and named after seven cities in Spain: Barcelona, Cadiz, Cartagena, Cordoba, Sevilla, Toledo and Valencia. The ships’ crews would come from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Ships’ officers, including captains, already had been hired. They were Indian and Filipino Muslims from Kashmir and Mindanao.
Dawn, January 10, 2009
Pakistan’s Navy Pier, Port of Karachi
Signs in Arabic and English warned onlookers and intruders they would be shot on sight. Pakistani soldiers patrolled each end of the wide, nearly fifteen-hundred-foot long loading dock. They also stood guard outside three-story warehouses from which forklifts maneuvered toward the Cartagena, the Sevilla, the Toledo and the Valencia.
Abu Mahmoud Rahman stood in a control tower fifty feet above the middle of the pier. With binoculars he surveyed the ships’ loading operations. Below him on the dock, forklifts stacked large, wooden ordnance crates.
A derrick crane mid-ship on the Cartagena lowered cables to hook a netted load of crates. A stevedore standing on the pier with a walkie-talkie communicated with the derrick’s operator. He gave a thumbs-up and yelled in Arabic into his walkie-talkie: “Lift, lift up, up.” The cable went taut, the netting bunched around the crates. Ten shoulder-fired, American-made FIM-92A Stinger missiles went skyward. “Over, over ... steady, steady,” the stevedore said, keying the walkie-talkie.
When the netted load was directly over the ship’s forward hold, the derrick operator radioed the dock-side stevedore: “Over now, over the hold.”
“Down, down. Steady, steady,” the stevedore said. The derrick operator slowly lowered the net into the hold. A crew deep inside the Cartagena’s hold watched as the netting touched down. Another walkie-talkie keyed from the hold.
“Stop, stop, stop. Okay,” the below-deck stevedore radioed the derrick operator. A crew carried ten crates out of the loose netting and stacked them. “Pull up, pull up,” the walkie-talkie crackled. At first slowly, then with alacrity, the rope netting zoomed up out of the hold. The derrick crane swung out over the dock and lowered its cargo net for another load.
The crated missiles were strapped into hidden compartments below the hold’s steel deck. Crewmen covered the compartments with thin steel sheeting, the corners and edges of which were spot-welded shut. The false floorboards were now flush with the hold’s main deck.
Into similar compartments in the Cartagena’s three other holds went twenty canvas-bagged, Swedish-made Carl Gustav M2 anti-tank rocket launchers; twenty-two Russian-made RPG-7 shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled grenade launchers; twenty U.S.-made M240 belt-fed machine guns, each with six-thousand rounds of 7.62 millimeter cartridges; fifty Chinese-manufactured AK-47 assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition; and fifteen nine-millimeter American-made Beretta pistols, also with ammunition.
At the same time, another matching supply of armaments was loaded into the four holds of the Sevilla, all sealed in hidden compartments beneath the holds’ deck. The same cargo also was hoisted and lowered into the holds of the Toledo and the Valencia.
Forklifts traveled deep into the warehouse for more cargo to be loaded into the four ships. Bow, stern and mid-ship derricks hoisted, one at a time, American-made inflatable boats into the holds of the Sevilla and the Cartagena. Ten each also would be loaded into the holds of the two other ships.
Capable of carrying a four-man crew, the Omega boats were 17.5-feet long with a beam
of 8.5 feet and weighed about 300 pounds empty. The controls and steering apparatus for each
craft were mid-ship under a canvas-topped canopy. The boats, made in Charleston, South Carolina had stern and bow fittings for mounting the M240 machine guns. Japanese-made, 100-horsepower Yokosuka outboard marine engines were the last cargo to be loaded. Twenty each were lowered into the center holds of the Cartagena, the Sevilla, the Toledo and the Valencia.
Three Pakistani military troop-transports rolled down the pier and braked to a stop. From the back of the trucks emerged sixty men, all carrying satchels shouldered over their traditional Afghan clothing. The Jihadist Front mujahidin marched in regimented formation up a wide gangplank and boarded the Cartagena. Minutes later, three other troop-transport vehicles roared down the pier before stopping. Sixty more Afghans disembarked and quickly boarded the Sevilla. The trucks backed up and turned around. They sped off back down the pier, passing six other troop transports. One hundred and twenty Jihadist fighters also boarded the Toledo and the Valencia.
By late evening the four ships steamed passed the breakwater into the Arabian Sea. The Cartagena, the Sevilla, the Valencia and the Toledo were heading to an anchorage ten nautical miles off the coast from Suhar in northern Oman. In the waters of the Gulf of Oman, the 240 Jihadist Front mujahidin would undergo three days of training in the piloting of the Omega boats. An Omani Navy 20,000 dead-weight tonnage supply ship was contracted to provide high-octane gasoline for the Omega boats’ outboard engines. Mid-ship derrick cranes on the supply ship would hoist and then lower into the holds of each of the four vessels gasoline-laden, aluminum jerry cans strapped to pallets.
Abu Mahmoud Rahman was on board the flotilla’s lead ship, the Sevilla.
February 10, 2009
Pakistan Navy Pier, Port of Karachi
Over the span of two days the same number and types of weapons and Omega boats and outboard engines that were loaded into the Cartagena, the Sevilla, the Toledo and the Valencia went into the Jihadist Front’s three other ships. Slightly more than 180 seasoned Jihadist fighters boarded the Cadiz, the Barcelona and the Cordoba. The cargo ships steamed into the Arabian Sea at dawn
three days later and headed to the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Suhar. The fighters on board the ships also would undergo three days of training to learn how to handle the inflatable boats.
Sadiq Haqqani, a veteran of the Afghan-Soviet War and a Jihadist Front commander, stood in the Barcelona’s wheelhouse. He’d just clicked off on a satellite telephone call to Abu Mahmoud Rahman.