Taliban leader Omar lived next to US Afghan base: biography

This handout photograph taken in 1978 and obtained from the Afghan Taliban on October 12, 2015 shows the late Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar posing for a portrait when he was a student at a madrassa in Kandahar. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019

Taliban leader Omar lived next to US Afghan base: biography

  • Dutch journalist Bette Dam spent more than five years researching the book and interviewed Jabbar Omari, Mullah Omar's bodyguard
  • Taliban kept his death in 2013 a secret for two years

ISLAMABADL Taliban founder Mullah Omar lived within walking distance of US bases in Afghanistan for years, according to a new book that highlights embarrassing failures of American intelligence.

Washington believed the one-eyed, fugitive leader had fled to Pakistan, but the new biography says Omar was in fact living just three miles from a major US Forward Operating Base in his home province of Zabul before his death in 2013.

"Searching for an Enemy", by Dutch journalist Bette Dam, reveals the Taliban chief lived as a virtual hermit, refusing visits from his family and filling notebooks with jottings in an imaginary language.
Dam spent more than five years researching the book and interviewed Jabbar Omari, Omar's bodyguard who hid and protected him after the Taliban regime was overthrown.
According to the book, Omar listened to the BBC's Pashto-language news broadcasts in the evenings, but even when he learned about the death of al-Qaeda supremo Osama Bin Laden rarely commented on developments in the outside world.

Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which led to the fall of the Taliban, the US put a $10 million bounty on Omar and he went into hiding in a small compound in the regional capital Qalat, Dam writes.
The family living at the compound were not told of the identity of their mystery guest, but US forces twice almost found him.

At one point, a US patrol approached as Omar and Omari were in the courtyard. Alarmed, the two men ducked behind a wood pile, but the soldiers passed without entering.
A second time, US troops even searched the house but did not uncover the concealed entrance to his secret room. It was not clear if the search was the result of a routine patrol or a tip-off.
Omar decided to move when the US started building Forward Operating Base Lagman in 2004, just a few hundred metres from his hideout.

He later moved to a second building but soon afterwards the Pentagon constructed Forward Operating Base Wolverine -- home to 1,000 US troops, and where American and British special forces were sometimes based -- close by.

Despite his terror at being caught, he dared not move again, rarely even going outside and often hiding in tunnels when US planes flew over.
According to Dam, Omar would often only talk to his guard and cook, and used an old Nokia mobile phone, without a sim card, to record himself chanting verses from the Koran.
Omar's Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, and has waged an anti-government insurgency since then.

Omar, who delegated effective Taliban leadership after 2001, appears to have acted as more of a spiritual leader, and the militant movement kept his death in 2013 secret for two years.


Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen back in prison over gag order

Updated 10 July 2020

Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen back in prison over gag order

  • Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress, had been released May 21 on furlough

NEW YORK: President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was returned to federal prison Thursday, after balking at certain conditions of the home confinement he was granted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Records obtained by The Associated Press said Cohen was ordered into custody after he “failed to agree to the terms of Federal Location Monitoring” in Manhattan.
But Cohen’s attorneys disputed that, saying Cohen took issue with a condition of his home confinement that forbid him from speaking with the media and publishing a tell-all book he began working on in federal prison. The rules also prohibited him from “posting on social media,” the records show.
“The purpose is to avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to your status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community,” the document says.
Cohen has written a tell-all book that he had been preparing to publish about his time working for the Trump Organization, his lawyers said.
“Cohen was sure this was written just for him,” his attorney, Jeffrey Levine, said of the home confinement conditions. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
A Justice Department official pushed back on that characterization and said Cohen had refused to accept the terms of home confinement, specifically that he submit to wearing an ankle monitor. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Cohen legal adviser Lanny Davis called that “completely false,” adding that “at no time did Michael ever object to the ankle bracelet.”
Cohen later agreed to accept all of the requirements of home confinement but was taken into custody nevertheless, Davis said. “He stands willing to sign the entire document if that’s what it takes” to be released.
Cohen was being held late Thursday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, Levine said. His legal team, meanwhile, was preparing an emergency appeal to spring him from custody.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress, had been released May 21 on furlough as part of an attempt to slow the spread of the virus in federal prisons. Cohen, 53, began serving his sentence in May 2019 and had been scheduled to remain in prison until November 2021 but was permitted to serve the remainder of this three-year term at home.
The conditions restricting the publication of his book would only extend through the end of his term.
Cohen was once one of Trump’s closest advisers but became a loud critic after pleading guilty.
Cohen’s convictions were related to crimes including dodging taxes on $4 million in income from his taxi business, lying during congressional testimony about the timing of discussions around an abandoned plan to build a Trump Tower in Russia, and orchestrating payments to two women to keep them from talking publicly about alleged affairs with Trump. Prosecutors said the payments amounted to illegal campaign contributions. Trump, who denied the affairs, said any payments were a personal matter.
Roger Adler, one of Cohen’s attorneys, told the AP that the FBI had agreed to return to Cohen two smartphones it seized as part of its investigation, adding Cohen had planned to pick them up Thursday after an appointment at the federal courthouse in Manhattan concerning his home confinement.
Davis added the appointment with federal authorities was intended to finalize the conditions of Cohen’s home confinement. Cohen also had been expected to receive an ankle bracelet, he said.
“It was nothing other than routine,” Davis said, adding the appointment with his probation officers had nothing to do with him being photographed dining out. Days before Cohen’s return to prison, the New York Post had published photos of Cohen and his wife enjoying an outdoor meal with friends at a restaurant near his Manhattan home.
“It’s not a crime to eat out and support local businesses,” Adler said, adding Cohen had been “thrown back into a petri dish of coronavirus.”
A federal judge had denied Cohen’s attempt for an early release to home confinement after serving 10 months in prison and said in a May ruling that it “appears to be just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle.” But the Bureau of Prisons can move prisoners to home confinement without a judicial order.
Prison advocates and congressional leaders had pressed the Justice Department to release at-risk inmates, arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.
Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates, beginning at three prisons identified as coronavirus hot spots. Otisville, where Cohen was housed, was not one of those facilities.