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Atif Ahmed, 30, was scooped up by Scotland Yard detectives nine months ago after the FBI, working with the New York City police, linked him to accused "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui. At the time of Ahmed's arrest, law enforcement sources told ABC News they had found telephone records and other evidence suggesting that Ahmed, a British national, was a co-conspirator with Moussaoui.
In his own trial on capital conspiracy charges, Moussaoui, an admitted Al Qaeda member, has identified Ahmed as a "very important part" of the 9/11 terror plot. Moussaoui has also claimed that Ahmed was a double agent working for British intelligence. That charge, if true, would have alarming implications about the extent of 9/11 foreknowledge among Western intelligence agencies.
Yet, since the day of his arrest, Atif Ahmed has been all but erased from the public record in what feels eerily like a deliberate news blackout. A comprehensive review of online newspaper archives, Internet search engines, unsealed court papers, and relevant government documents has failed to turn up any mention of Ahmed, apart from Moussaoui's pleadings and a single ABC News story dating from November of last year.
Where Ahmed is concerned, press coverage and official acknowledgment are conspicuous by their absence. Although the US government has been highly secretive in its proceedings against the hundreds of persons preventively detained in the post-9/11 dragnet, arrests of alleged Al Qaeda conspirators, like Moussaoui or Jose Padilla, have been well publicized and widely reported.
Similarly, the press has closely followed the stories of other alleged Moussaoui henchmen, like his ex-roommates Hussein al-Attas and Ramzi Binalshibh. If there is a blackout, it appears to apply only to Ahmed.
Calls to the FBI's national and New York press offices failed to yield any information about Ahmed's status. "Never heard of the guy," FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette said.
Thus the only publicly available information about Atif Ahmed is contained in an ABC News item dated November 14, 2001, which remains accessible on the network's Web site: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/WTC_Investigations011114.html . Headlined "British Police Nab Terror Suspect," the story reveals that Ahmed was picked up at his London dwelling and detained at the request of US law enforcement officials, who claimed to have uncovered telephone evidence suggesting that Ahmed "was working with" Moussaoui. Further unspecified evidence was said to have been found during a search of Ahmed's apartment.
As of the story's filing, Ahmed was being held without charge under the British Counterterrorism Act. "Sources say the FBI wants Scotland Yard to keep Ahmed in custody until it can be learned just how deeply may be connected with Moussaoui," the story said.
The rest is silence. Despite the seriousness of the allegations against Atif Ahmed, there has been no press follow-up, and it is impossible to discover whether he has been charged or released, or indeed whether he is living or dead.
Ironically, the only person who now seems to care about the status and whereabouts of Atif Ahmed is terror defendant Zacarias Moussaoui, who has chosen to represent himself in a desperate bid to save his own life.
Moussaoui has moved for a court order compelling the prosecution to produce any and all information relating to Ahmed, but the government has so far failed to respond. Meanwhile, on the rare occasions when Moussaoui has been allowed to communicate indirectly with the outside world -- through incidental remarks in open-court hearings and in a series of handwritten motions recently unsealed by the court -- he has persisted in naming Ahmed as both an al Qaeda conspirator and a British double agent. Moussaoui's claims are self-serving, since his defense strategy relies on establishing that the FBI and other intelligence agencies knew all about the terror plot, and therefore must have known that he himself was not part of the "Nineteen Martyrs Team." Yet his charge that Atif Ahmed was working for British intelligence is suggestively consistent with the apparent news blackout.
Jacob Levich, [email protected], is a writer and editor living in Queens, NY, Jocob Levich, the Memory Hole, 2002, For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .
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