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In Pakistan, signs of al Qaeda all around

By Henry Schuster
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Editor's note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's investigative unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism, and efforts to combat them.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- We could have been anywhere when the latest al Qaeda video hit the Internet because it was available worldwide on dozens of Web sites.

But it was most likely made within 200 miles of where we were.

Five years after 9/11, Pakistan appears to have replaced Afghanistan as the group's center of gravity.

Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be in the more remote parts of this country. Two of the London subway bombers planned and trained for their mission here.

And al Qaeda's production company, As Sahab, also apparently does much of its work in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government has cut a deal with the Taliban in Waziristan province that essentially allows the group to run its own affairs as long as it promises not to export terror across the border to Afghanistan.

Waziristan is one of the places where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are thought to have hidden out and where As Sahab produces its work.

Spreading the message

On a crowded and poor commercial street in the border town of Lahore, Pakistan, the day after the al Qaeda video appeared, we visit an Internet cafe.

Cafe is probably the wrong word. It is a small room with 10 workstations, all of them in use.

Outside a goat is tethered. A cat triumphantly carries a piece of freshly chopped chicken in her mouth as a butcher does his work on an outdoor table.

Inside, at the terminals, young men are sending messages, playing computer games, downloading music.

It's likely that the day before, according to experts who follow As Sahab, somewhere in one of thousands of similar Internet cafes in Pakistan, someone quickly and quietly uploaded the 48-minute video.

The video featured a message from American Adam Gadahn calling on his fellow countrymen to convert to Islam and warning them of the consequences if they didn't.

Whether this was al Qaeda's fifth-anniversary message after 9/11 wasn't clear, but the video had been anticipated since a flashing graphic had advertised it on Islamist Web sites two days earlier.

As Sahab had struck again, showing how easily and effectively al Qaeda was in getting its message out.

American al Qaeda

Al-Zawahiri was on the tape, but Gadahn was the star of the show.

The 28-year-old bearded and chubby-cheeked Californian prefers to use his alias, Azzam the American.

Gadahn grew up in Riverside County, California, on a goat farm. His father was a rock guitarist before starting the farm with his wife.

Gadahn left when he was a teenager, according to his father. After a heavy metal phase, he turned to Islam in 1995 and wrote about it on the Internet.

"As I began reading English translations of the Quran, I became more and more convinced of the truth and authenticity of Allah's teachings contained in those 114 chapters."

In his latest tape, Gadahn once again alluded to his time as a Muslim convert living in California.

"I can't forget the day, as I was praying a prescribed prayer with one of the brothers in a shopping center parking lot in suburban America. A man sped by in his sports utility vehicle shouting from his open window 'Worship Jesus, your Lord,' " Gadahn said on the tape.

Gadahn's call on Americans to convert came with an explicit warning of what would happen if his call went unheeded.

"Anyone who pays any attention to the messages of the leaders of the jihad, like Sheikh Osama bin Laden and Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may God protect them, will know that they have been consistent in inviting the Americans and other unbelievers to Islam and in pressing upon them that they want the best for them. And making it clear to all that we have no choice but to fight those who fight us," Gadahn said.

Gadahn's family had no comment about the latest tape. In the past, his father has said Gadahn moved to Pakistan in 1998 and that the family lost touch with him in 2002.

Al Qaedastan?

On the way to Chak 477, a village in Pakistan's Punjab province, we watched another As Sahab video on the computer.

There was Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London subway bombers, appearing on a so-called martyrdom video, obviously recorded months before that event but released to mark the July 2005 bombing's first anniversary.

What the tape made clear was that when Tanweer and Mohammad Siddique Khan came to Pakistan in late 2004 (both were the children of Pakistani immigrants in Britain), they had been given training and direction from al Qaeda to carry out their plot.

Chak 477 has just a few houses and a mosque with mostly dirt roads that quickly give way to lush farmland. Cows wander through the village. People stare at us and our TV gear.

Outside the mosque, we try to find out how the villagers feel about Tanweer, who had returned to his family's ancestral village on that trip to Pakistan before the bombings.

One man kept telling us that Tanweer's acts had brought trouble to the village because it meant that journalists kept coming to ask questions. But he wouldn't be pinned down on whether he condemned Tanweer's actions.

Another man in the crowd kept asking him, in Urdu, why he was even talking with us. Inside the mosque, after news of Tanweer's death reached the village last summer, prayers were said for him in something resembling a memorial.

When we knocked on the door of the Tanweer family home, one of the biggest in town, a woman answered. Her voice was full of anger as she asked when she would get her son back.

This wasn't the bomber's mother but an older relative who did not believe that Tanweer had been the suicide bomber. After a few more words, she shut the door.

As we drove out of town, we stopped at the village cemetery. The largest marker was for Tanweer.

At the gravestone's bottom was inscribed the date of his death, when he blew himself up on a London subway.

It was a reminder of the troubling connection between Pakistan and al Qaeda.


In a recently released al Qaeda video, Californian Adam Gadahn, 28, invites Americans to convert to Islam.


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