By Jean-Charles BrisardJune 5, 2002 | A 1998 memo written by al-Qaida military chief Mohammed Atef reveals that Osama bin Laden's group had detailed knowledge of negotiations that were taking place between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and American government and business leaders over plans for a U.S. oil and gas pipeline across that Central Asian country.
The e-mail memo was found in 1998 on a computer seized by the FBI during its investigation into the 1998 African embassy bombings, which were sponsored by al-Qaida. Atef's memo was discovered by FBI counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill, who left the bureau in 2001, complaining that U.S. oil interests were hindering his investigation into al-Qaida. O'Neill, who became security chief at the World Trade Center, died in the Sept. 11 attack.
Atef's memo shines new light on what al-Qaida knew about U.S. efforts to normalize relations with the Taliban in exchange for the fundamentalist government's supporting the construction of an oil and gas pipeline across Afghanistan. As documented in the book I coauthored with Guillaume Dasquie, "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth," the Clinton and Bush administrations negotiated with the Taliban, both to get the repressive regime to widen its government as well as look favorably on U.S. companies' attempts to construct an oil pipeline. The Bush White House stepped up negotiations with the Taliban in 2001. When those talks stalled in July, a Bush administration representative threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands.
The seven-page memo was signed "Abu Hafs," which is the military name of Atef, who was the military chief of al-Qaida and is believed to have been killed in November 2001 during U.S. operations in Afghanistan. It shows al-Qaida's keen interest in the U.S.-Taliban negotiations and raises new questions as to whether the U.S. military threat to the Taliban in July 2001 could have prompted al-Qaida's Sept. 11 attack.
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