Atif Khan alleged hired assassin, Pakistan
In recent days the name of the firm “Blackwater” has reared its ugly head once again with the trial of four men, part of an assignment contracted by the US State Department to provide “security” in Baghdad during 2007. This case has received widespread media attention but a much lesser know unofficial “trial by Taliban” of Atif Khan, an alleged arrester and target killer claimed to be linked to Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Blackwater has also emerged highlighting serious concerns regarding how state agencies may operate. First the background to the Iraq case as follows…
Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard are facing manslaughter charges for an incident when they were in the employment of Blackwater with a fourth man Nicholas Slatten accused of murder. The former guards stand before a Washington DC federal court alleged to have participated in the killing of 14 Iraqi civilians “without cause” in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The men are accused of running amok, opening fire and slaughtering unarmed locals going about their business as they responded to fear of a security threat on a Blackwater convoy. Defense lawyers allege that there was unprovoked firing at the vehicles by insurgents.
Hassan Jabir lies in a hospital bed Sept. 20, 2007, after he was wounded when guards employed by security company Blackwater opened fire at Nisoor Square in 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
The following account from Paul Yost, Associated Press details some of the victims of this incident which caused international outrage, including one witness, a weeping father, describing the killing of his 9 year old son.
After the gunfire stopped, the father said, he opened a back door on his car. His son’s brains fell out at his feet, he said.
“The world went dark for me,” he testified through an interpreter.
Among the victims was a down-on-his-luck potato farmer who had gone to Baghdad looking for work. He was wounded; two cousins with him were killed.
Other victims included a devoutly religious mother and her daughter, who were in the Nisoor Square area applying for travel documents so they could visit holy sites. The mother’s last act before dying was to grab her daughter’s head and shelter it in her lap, likely saving her life.
Investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill detailed the background and actions of the sometimes deadly global security business in his book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. The company has changed its name but does not appear to have changed its controversial practice. Extraordinary allegations appeared this week in Azan, an online “jihadi” publication, detailing the “trial” and confessions of a young Pakistani claimed to be working for the Pakistan Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) and Blackwater as a hired contract killer.
Some would immediately rush to dismiss this as propaganda however there is a considerable history within Pakistan of “enforced disappearances” torture in state custody and extra-judicial killings that warrant further investigation. On 30th August, international human rights groups issued a press release condemning the state saying,
“on the eve of the annual International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urge Pakistan’s government to stop the deplorable practice of state agencies abducting hundreds of people throughout the country without providing information about their fate or whereabouts”
See link for full statement,
The following abstract from Azan highlights this alleged practice in Pakistan and reads as follows:
Azan Report: Blackwater and ISI Working Together in Pakistan
“All Praise is due to Allah…Alone. And may His Peace and Blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad…Atif Khan, a teenager hailing from Mohallah Qazi Abad, Peshawar, was arrested by the Mujahideen in Miran Shah on the grounds of serving as an arrester and a target killer for the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the private US Security Agency, famously known as “Blackwater” (also known as Xe Services LLC, “Academi” or TIS [Total Intelligence Solutions]) . This 9th Grade teenager was trained jointly by ISI and Blackwater at CID center, Peshawar in January, 2014 and was subsequently tasked with killing or arresting several prominent Afghan Taliban Mujahideen and one Pakistani Mujahid. The teenager successfully completed 9 out of the 10 missions assigned to him, before being captured during his 10th mission. A week after being captured, Atif Khan confessed to his crime and revealed the entire story of his brief career as a target killer and kidnapper for ISI and Blackwater. This report details his story as well as some insight on Blackwater secret activity in Pakistan, and the role of ISI in secret detainments, co-operation with foreign mercenaries and killings of the people of the country it vows to protect…”
The report which also draws on books and journalistic research for a history, highlights that Blackwater was allegedly implicated in undercover operations in Pakistan and collecting intelligence for US drone strikes working under the CIA. Of particular concern is what appears to be this new information which is worthy of serious investigation, the role of Blackwater in allegedly recruiting and training young men to arrest and even assassinate individuals whose names are provided. Azan continues,
“Recently (May 2014), the Taliban Mujahideen captured a young teenager, Atif Khan, in Miranshah who had arrived to partake in the assassination of a TTP Commander for Ghazi Force Red Mosque (Lal Masjid). The teenager was arrested on the 37th day of his arrival after trying to escape twice towards the end of April and start of May. His arrest led to a whole lot of revelations about ISI’s and Blackwater’s activities in Pakistan in endangering the lives of the Pakistanis, terrorism within a foreign country’s boundaries (for US and Blackwater) as well as the treacherous face of the Pakistani military and establishment. His revelations are also important in analyzing the role of the ISI in removing people that the US wants out of the way. Possibly, the recent shooting of journalist Hamid Mir which he attributed to the intelligence agencies, might well be done via similar methods as well”
Atif Khan …AS -9 (Arrester/shooter no 9)
The report details the role of young Atif, his training, trainer/employers, names of alleged victims, details such as phone numbers, locations as well as more personal family details. For example we learn he was educated to 9th grade, engaged to his paternal cousin, that his father is a wine seller, owned a grey Suzuki Alto and that Atif had two brothers named Jasim (age 11) Hamza (age 10) and also two sisters.
The report, neatly laid out as a research paper with reference grids, claims to provide information obtained from Atif of his “missions” to arrest and/or assassinate insurgent targets, there are 10 documented… example as follows:-
Alleged “Second Mission” (one of 10 documented)
Goal…. To Kill or Capture Mr Wajid Zabuli, a Mujahid From Islamic Emirate Afghanistan
Details……Mr. Wajid Zabuli was a resident of Chalmaro area, Peshawar, he was tracked by his mobile phone, attested in Board Area, Peshawar, then shifted to CID Centre Gora Qabristan
Reason for arrest….. supporting Pakistan Taliban
Assignment date…..2nd week of January 2014
Assignment given by…… Mr Saeed
Place of assignment….. CID Centre Peshawar
Result…. mission successfully accomplished
Further details… Mr Wajid was (allegedly) shot dead by ISI in CID Centre in his cell, his dead body was then thrown in Chalmaro area of Peshawar; Mr Atif was member of the team that transferred the dead body.
The complete Azan report goes on to include a section on “observations” discussing 6 main points as follows:-
1) Blackwater/ISI Training Program in Peshawar
2) ISI is Targeting the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
3) Blackwater is Present and Actively Working Within Pakistan
4) “AS-9” Shows Other Similar Target Killers are Operating in the Country
5) Hamid Mir’s Shooting and Discarded Dead Bodies Could be Connected
6) Target Killings are Rampant in Pakistan
Further research from investigative journalist sources cover more activities of US “security” firms in Pakistan.
The full report can be read here and is shared due to the serious nature of the allegations which should be taken up by lawyers and those investigating “state terrorism” and criminal activity within Pakistan…
There is a saying… “you can’t see the wood for the trees”… which can sometimes be applied when a person is undertaking an important piece of research and embroiled in detail, the obvious can be missed. What is hugely significant with this report is that if the allegations could be proven it shows that arrests and assassinations of those claimed to be connected to insurgency were going on DURING so called “peace talks” with the Taliban. Dates of !missions” are clearly stated. There are also likely to have been other target killers involved given that Atif Khan was known as AS-9 suggesting there were 8 before and who knows how many afterwards? This would show the state agencies were not sincere in supporting the Pakistan government, thereby well and truly sabotaging efforts at dialogue with insurgents… talks set up to fail!
It is important to remember also that a key point raised by the Taliban during peace talks was their allegations of torture in custody and extra-judicial killings. I tried to raise these issues myself as an independent human rights activist but my letter was ignored. Failure to listen and address these issues led to the well-documented retaliation attack by the Pakistan Taliban, the killing of 23 FC men as detailed in my earlier article,
Pakistan: Warning letter on human rights abuses in custody was ignored, Taliban kill 23 FC men in retaliation
When William J Burns, Deputy Secretary of State visited Pakistan earlier this year, his mission was clear, to put pressure on Pakistan to take more active measures on insurgency. His press statement of May 9th 2014 read,
“militancy continues to threaten Pakistan’s revival. Few countries have paid a heavier price than Pakistan in the fight against extremism. We support the Prime Minister’s efforts to reestablish authority over all Pakistani territory in whatever way Pakistan deems appropriate, and especially urge him to sustain pressure on militant groups, deny them a safe-haven, and prevent cross-border attacks!
The pressure again increased with the announcement that continuing US aid would depend on success in eliminating terrorists “hide-outs” in North Waziristan. Consequently the military launched operation Zarb-e-Asb which entailed clearing out the tribal areas of civilians prior to air strikes and ground assaults and is estimated to have created around 1 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Important questions that must now be asked are… who are the “terrorists” in Pakistan (aside from the militants)? What action will be taken against those who allow “state terrorism” to flourish?
The killing of Atif Khan
I contacted Azan to ask what happened to Atif Khan? I was told he was interrogated regarding his actions, was afraid but when asked “if they sent you again then what would you do?….He used to reply “I have no choice”.
His captors informed me that he was later “killed”… “slaughtered like a lamb”….”he was slaughtered in Mir Ali, on the road, at night time.” I inquired as to whether his family knew of his fate? The answer was “no, you can expose his bitter end”. I was then told his body was “left by the road during the last week in May, 2014.”
This report and allegations raise a series of concerns. What is the legal position with regard to private and foreign firms that are alleged to have carried out contract killings? Who will investigate the allegations? What actions will be taken to stop such killings from happening again?
This report has focused on “arresting”and target killing of alleged insurgents however a number of previous articles have highlighted that individuals from many walks of life end up as “enforced disappearances” in Pakistan. Media persons like Hamid Mir have come under physical attack and some like investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered with no-one ever held to account.
See Pakistan: “Enforced disappearances” condemned, practice threatens security of the state,
It is a great pity that Atif Khan was not tried in court for alleged assassinations and put through the process of undergoing a fair judicial trial if sufficient evidence was found. However the brutal reality of Pakistan is, that if he had been handed over and ended up in state custody it is likely he would have been killed in detention to keep him quiet and stop him from revealing names. It appears laws no longer appear to apply in Pakistan, (unless it suits those with power or in power). The state stands accused from various bodies of gross human rights abuses both in detention and on the streets, so it it any wonder that insurgency continues to flourish. If the state cannot lead by example and follow its own rules, what incentive is there for anyone else to keep within the law!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.