Honeymoon In A British Embassy Safe House
We had just driven up the Khyber Pass in our Sherpa campervan with an armed guard and were now on our way home alone through the North West Frontier Province, Pakistan, skirting the border of Afghanistan. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Pakistan was in the depths of a military coup and we shouldn’t have been there. All credit to the security services and the Pakistani Police Force for ensuring that we were safe during our previous police escorts. However, it seemed we slipped through the net when we ventured into the Afghan border areas just north of Quetta. All we did was look on our map and chose the road from D.I. Khan to Quetta. Little did we know that it would spark a massive international cover up, ensuring that we would never be able to tell our story and be believed.
The main road from DI Khan to Quetta was blocked by flooding, so we were directed by locals down a dirt track, which turned out to be 80 miles of
rough dry river bed, each one of which we had to wade in to test the depth and move boulders aside, before taking the plunge and driving through. It took us the best part of 11 hours to complete this part of the journey. During this time we didn’t see a house, or an animal, just a group of men in a Toyota pick up, driving in the opposite direction, all carrying semi-automatics at the ready. They looked a little bemused as to what a couple of lost tourists were doing in such a desolate place, but let us continue our journey. At one point the terrain was so rough that we thought we would be unable to make it in our non-4 X 4 campervan, but we pushed on as it was getting dark. We finally reached tarmac at a very small checkpoint just outside the small town of Zhob (formerly Fort Sanderman) and started to rejoice. Though not without being scrutinized by a rather shady group of armed men, who stood blocking the road ahead! The men it seemed were friendly and insisted we have tea and biscuits.
When under the cover of darkness we reached the small town of Zhob, we were promptly surrounded by locals, who for the first time during our stay made us feel uncomfortable. Two policemen appeared from nowhere demanding to see our passports. Then a man on a motorcycle intervened and said that everything was OK and did we need a hotel. The same man on a motorcycle that had watched us leave D.I. Khan on the Zhob road. The whole of Zhob followed us to a small hotel in the center of town where the police insisted that we fill in some forms. As we sat in the police room, the two windows and the doorway became a mass of inquisitive faces, all wanting to get a glimpse of us. It was a little intimidating, given that most men in the area carried automatic weapons for their protection.
With our forms completed and passport details taken, we parked our Sherpa in the hotel car park and asked to use one of the showers. We were shown to a room and were followed in by two young men. When we asked what they wanted they told us that they were security! We told them that we didn’t need security and to leave us to have a shower. We then asked if we could buy some food. The hotel didn’t have any food, but another young man offered to take us somewhere in town who would be able to cook us something to eat.
He was calm and gentle natured, explaining that he wanted to be a tourist guide and move out of Zhob. His friend who tagged along was very different and took control of the conversation, making his views on politics and religion known to us in a very forceful manner. He kept telling us that the West was bad, that Bush was bad and that he didn’t accept Blair, shaking his fists in the air for effect. (he had a point) ‘Osama bin Laden and Islam for the world.’ He told us. ‘Osama is my hero.’ He added. When I started asking him questions about Osama, why Osama was his hero and what had he done to be given the title hero, he conveniently told us that he was illiterate and couldn’t speak English. In fact his English was very good. This guy wasn’t friendly. We wanted to leave and were feeling uncomfortable. I was later told that Osama had done much to help people in this area, building schools, etc and providing work and hope in an area which to Western eyes had nothing. On the way back to our Sherpa, the second young man was joking with passersby about our conversation, mentioning bin Laden a number of times. We knew from the way he was talking about bin Laden, it obvious that he and others in the town knew him. He was also very guarded about where he lived and what he did.
We believed at this time from information fed to us from the West, that bin Laden was a very wanted man and that the reward for his capture or location was standing at $5 million as stated in Time Magazine and all other national tabloids. We didn’t want to get involved so decided to leave very early the following morning. We were not in the mood for tribal entertainments.
We made it to Quetta, the last main town before the Iranian border, and managed to find a Dawn newspaper, the English national paper of Pakistan. In the paper was an article “More foreigners visit Afghan border areas.” Having just returned from the Afghan border, I read with interest and was horrified to see;
“Dera Ismail Khan, May 14: More foreigners nationals have been noticed visiting the DI Khan and Tank areas lately for some unspecified reasons especially following the visit of two US consulate officers from Peshawar May 6. The two US consulate officials during their stay in DI Khan and Tank had met the commissioner and the political agent, South Waziristan. The latest visit to this remote southern district of NWFP on Thursday was the Australian High Commissioner Mr Geoffrey Allen and his wife.”
We actually saw the Australian High Commissioner being driven past in a cream Mercedes, with a police entourage in Pashawar a couple of days previous. What was he doing in an area that is a law unto itself? The Afghani who told us who they were at the time, also told us that a Swiss Embassy offical was also visiting the area. (exchange of money, or to discuss bank accounts maybe?)
“….The foreigners in the area had the same destination, Zhob in Balochistan, which is situated near the Afghan border with Pakistan. A non-metalled road connects Zhob with the Afghan province of Ghazni and has been frequently used by visitors both local and Afghans.”
“The road from DI Khan to Zhob, known as the Fort Sanderman Road…….is considered unsafe for travel without a proper armed escort.”
We did ask in Peshawar if we needed a permit and a guard to travel this road and we were told ‘No’. We passed numerous police check points, but no one stopped us.
“Meanwhile, other foreign nationals were also in DI Khan at the same time…….Mr Alan” (my husband Alan) “and Ms Cendy” (they had miss spelled my name. Cindy) “……passed the night in their vehicle No S176 ESU (the registration was actually F176 ESU) within the Rose Hotel’s premises.”
The next part of the article shocked us “…… Some intelligence agency people said that somehow the foreigners seem to have discovered the hide-out of Osama bin Laden and a further probe was on.” This linked well with the information we had been given in Zhob, which led us to believe that we were indeed right to assume that bin Laden was well known in the area. If the intelligence agency knew that this indeed was a secret hide out of bin Laden, then it must be fairly common knowledge. Then why was he never captured?
The article also stated that US Commandos had been seen setting up a base in North Western parts of Pakistan in the early part of 1999. What were US military doing? Preparing for the planned US invasion?
We felt that we were in a very worrying situation and our safety could be compromised. Alan decided to contact the British Embassy in Islamabad.
The British Embassy at first didn’t believe that we were even IN Pakistan. Having assured them that we were and of our situation, they told us to get the very next flight out. Leaving our vehicle in Pakistan we would have been faced with a whopping import duty bill. So the British Embassy Warden was sent to collect us under armed guard and take us to a safe house, while the situation was investigated.
We stayed in the safe house for a week and were not allowed to venture anywhere without an armed guard and a driver. During this time we were invited to a garden party for ex-pats. Some of the people at the party were aid agency employees, from both America and UK, working on aid projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of the American aid workers told me that he had had to move his office in Kandahar because Osama bin Laden had set up office next door! I was gob smacked. This man was supposedly the most wanted terrorist in the world, yet his whereabouts was almost common knowledge to the locals and aid workers. It didn’t make any sense.
At the end of the week in the safe house, we were offered an armed escort for the drive to the Iranian border. We declined, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.
We made it into Iran and back to the UK without any incident even though we had reason to believe that we were being watched.
On arrival back in the UK in 1999 following an article in one of the national tabloids calling for the capture of bin Laden, I telephoned Scotland Yard and told them our story. I was given a number 7641 and told that they would probably want to interview myself, and my husband. I never heard from Scotland Yard again. We had found the hide out of the most wanted terrorist in the world, and Scotland Yard would only ‘probably’ want to come and interview us!
I wrote to the FBI and the CIA c/o the American Embassy London, telling them that we had a very interesting story about bin Laden. I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement. I then wrote to the FBI at the Pentagon, USA, but again I didn’t receive any acknowledgement.
Other national papers told me that our story wasn’t newsworthy enough! I think that week Beckham had had a hair cut and there was a solar eclipse.
After 9-11, I contacted the BBC news desk who were reporting that Osama bin Laden was behind the attack and must be found. They told me they didn’t want to know!
I then contacted the foreign editor of the Observer newspaper, which was stating that bin Laden might be hiding in Pakistan. He told me in a most rude manner that, ‘Bin Laden didn’t hide in Pakistan, but lived in Afghanistan in a cave!’, then slammed the receiver down before I even had chance to ask when he last visited Pakistan.
I then went and posted my news on the CBN news website bulletin board, under the heading, “I found the secret hide out of Osama bin Laden, but no one wants to know. WHY?” My news was censored and taken off the WEBSITE within 10 minutes, stating that it had been censored by the web master. I re-posted it and it was removed again. This naturally led me to question what had happened.
In the light of the later US and UK invasion of Afghanistan on the premise of ousting the Taliban and capturing bin Laden, I surmise that it would not be conducive for the British government to acknowledge our findings, given that they spent £millions of tax payer’s money on the invasion, the result of which was carnage to many more innocent people than Taliban members. They didn’t find Osama bin Laden, even though they had a reason, billions of £’s of high tech equipment and the manpower of supposedly the best armies in the world to do so. However, two innocent tourists in a 10 year old campervan, on a tight budget, did easily stumble across one of the secret hideouts of the most wanted terrorists in the world. We have yet to receive a cent in reward money. As far as those in control are concerned, we don’t exist.
I question the hunt for bin Laden.
I question the $5 billion reward for his capture.
I question the so-called war on terror, and the reasons behind it.
If I question all this then I must also question the system that puts the governments into power.