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Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Khalifa Murder Investigation Marked By Confusion, Unanswered Questions
Authorities in Madagascar are investigating at least three Arab suspects in the murder of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, according to published reports.
U.S. and Philippines authorities have long alleged Khalifa was a top al Qaeda financier. A Saudi national, Khalifa consistently denied any link to terrorism and was never successfully convicted of a terrorist-related offense. He was killed Jan. 30 in Madagascar.
Two French-language newspapers in Madagascar, Midi Madagasikara and L'Express de Madagascar, have been closely following the murder investigation. Two additional articles appeared in an online journal, the Madagascar Tribune.
INTELWIRE could confirm few details from the reports, which conflict with each other and with information from other sources. But the articles, published in February and March, clearly reveal an investigation in flux and fraught with unresolved questions.
Khalifa was in Madagascar attending to business matters at a sapphire mine he owned there. According to reports, Khalifa was attacked by a group of 20 to 30 men. He was shot twice, apparently once in the chest and once in the back, reports said. He was also attacked with an axe, one report said.
A locally infamous bandit named "Dr. Olivier" was described as the leader of a 30-person gang of "dahalo," or bandits, that attacked Khalifa in Sakaraha, Madagascar, at the end of January. Olivier was reportedly shot in the back and killed while trying to flee from police in a dawn raid on Feb. 1.
When police searched Olivier's home, they found a newly issued passport and determined that many of his papers had been removed, reports said.
Initially, one report said, a member of Olivier's gang confessed to the crime and implicated the ringleader. However, the gang member described an attack by only six people, including Olivier. Other reports consistently indicated 20 to 30 assailants.
Few details from the newspaper reports could be confirmed by INTELWIRE. The reports themselves contain conflicting information. They also did not match up with at least one eyewitness account, according to a source close to the situation. That witness described the attackers as wearing military-style uniforms, the source said.
Other conflicts among the stories include the number of suspects identified by police, which ranged from three to 10, depending on which day and which newspaper was reporting. Three suspects were reportedly arrested within days of the murder.
As of March 13, the latest report, six people were said to have been arrested, in addition to the killing of Olivier.
At the time of the shooting, police reportedly found a safe in Olivier's possession. A laptop computer, two mobile phones and a suitcase or briefcase had been stolen during the attack on Khalifa, reports said. The reports did not indicate if any of the stolen items were in the safe.
"I think that it was pure and simple criminal act," said Albert Rakondravao, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department, told Midi Madagasikara in early February.
But around the same time, Khalifa's brother Malek began accusing local authorities of covering up a "a premeditated crime for political reasons" while still denying that Jamal Khalifa was involved with al Qaeda, according to a report in the Al Hayat newspaper.
"After I saw... the maneuvers by officials (in Madagascar)... I became convinced that the government of Madagascar sold Jamal's fate to international intelligence services," he told Al Hayat.
As the Madagascar newspapers revealed, the official investigation was indeed becoming dense and confused; the initial claims of a simple robbery soon came into question as the number of suspects expanded.
INVESTIGATION BECOMES MURKY
The investigation ground to a halt by Feb. 8 -- because three of the four suspects then identified by police were Arabs, reports said. The local police didn't speak Arabic, anonymous sources told Midi Madagasikara, and the investigation was essentially suspended while authorities sought a translator. One of the suspects was an interpreter, the report said, but investigators didn't trust him to accurately translate the interrogations.
A special task force was put in charge of the investigation, reports said, and police clamped down on the flow of information.
Toward the end of February, an additional mystery emerged. According to Midi Madagasikara, eyewitnesses identified a female suspect who the papers said was with Khalifa on the night of his assassination. One report said the woman had been shot in the foot during the attack and was initially taken into custody. Lacking any immediate evidence implicating her in the attack, she was released.
Later, investigators concluded from footprints at the scene that the woman had guided the assassins to Khalifa's room. It was unclear whether the early report that the woman had been wounded was true, or whether this account was consistent with the previous account. At one point, reports said, the woman was suspected of casing the location, and possibly providing weapons and ammunition used in the attack.
By Feb. 22, reports said, the woman had had vanished and was being sought by police. According to reports, the woman was an associate of another man, named Paul Fils, who had provided a Peugeot 405 used by Khalifa during the trip, and who was now also a suspect.
Khalifa's body was flown back to Saudi Arabia in early February on a Boeing 777 rented by the family, reports said. Nineteen people were on board the flight, including an ambassador from Saudi Arabia, reports said.
One report described a delegation that had been personally dispatched by Saudi King Abdullah. Passengers on the flight were met by government officials who conveyed regrets. The car that conveyed his body to the airport received a police escort.
Khalifa was licensed to operate the mine in 2000, reports said. The papers reported that the Muslim community in Madagascar spoke out to say that Khalifa had no connections to terrorism. Khalifa employed many in the region and the mining operation was valuable, reports said.
The CIA investigated Khalifa in relation to the attacks of September 11, according to the Madagascar reports, and CIA representatives went to Madagascar in 2001 to investigate the Saudi. A worker at the mine named Amin was also questioned by the CIA, according to reports. The CIA was persuaded Khalifa was innocent, or at least that no charges could be brought, and dropped the case, the newspapers said.
Another Madagascar newspaper, the Journal of the Island, reportedly took a much harsher view, arguing that Khalifa was a terrorist who had been treated with "astonishing leniency" by the CIA and FBI, claiming those agencies withheld evidence against the Saudi.
The Journal report, which quoted in other sources but not reviewed by INTELWIRE, appears to simply reiterate charges, long circulated in the West, that Khalifa founded businesses and charities in the Philippines which were then used to financing terrorist activities and the activities of the Abu Sayyaf Group in that country.
Previously on INTELWIRE:
This article was compiled from the following reports:
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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