By: Peter Sessum
Eleven years ago there was a suicide attack that would have a major impact on world events. It was ordered by Osama Bin Laden and carried out by al-Qaeda operatives. It was Sept. 9, 2001 and took place in Afghanistan.
Two days before the attacks on the Twin Towers, three men posing as journalists finally got to meet Ahmed Shah Massoud. They detonated a bomb hidden in their video camera. Massoud’s assassination two days before Sept 11 was not a coincidence. It was not a separate event; it was part of the attack on the Twin Towers. An attack Massoud himself had predicted.
In the spring of 2001, Ahmed Shah Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Brussels and warned of an imminent large scale attack on U.S. soil. He tried to warn U.S. intelligence agencies, but didn’t have enough information to give specifics.
Massoud had been an ally to the U.S. during the pre-9/11 hunt for Bin Laden. He laughed at the CIA when they tried to give him rules of engagement on capturing the terrorist leader. Not wantign to seem like assassins, then President Clinton didn’t want anyone to use US intelligence to kill Bin Laden. First, every attempt should be made to capture him. That an attacking force should only fire when fired upon. Massoud laughed and said, “That is not how things work in Afghanistan.” Anyone that has deployed and performed HVT mission knows that he is right. If the US had the guts back then, Bin Laden might have been removed years earlier. Instead, he slipped away and was able to plan the attack on the World Trade Center, and Massoud’s assassination as well.
When Massoud was assassinated, members of the intelligence community saw it as an indicator of something big was coming. On Sept 9, 2001 counter-terrorism expert and former assistant director of the FBI John O’Neill said to friends, “We’re due. And we’re due for something big.” O’Neill had accepted a job as director of security at the World Trade Center just 17 days earlier. He died when the south tower collapsed.
An ethnic Tajik, he was beloved by all Afghans. Had he lived, Massoud would most likely have beaten the Pashtun Hamid Karzai in a run for President. An impressive achievement for the mostly Pashtun country who are very loyal to tribal lines. As a Muslim, he was progressive. An engineering student when the Russians invaded, Massoud was against terrorism tactics. Believing that such actions would be detrimental to the Afghan people.
Even though it was believed that every Afghan should engage in fighting the Russian invaders, Massoud would not allow the family’s sole breadwinner to fight. He knew that after the Russians were driven out, there needed to be Afghans left in Afghanistan. Suicide bombers were not used against the Russians. Mujahedeen could fight the Russians, return to their family and go fight more Russians later.
Called the Lion of Panjshir, Massoud was an Afghan national hero. He successfully defended the Panjshir Valley from the Russians. Nine times the Russians tried to invade Massoud’s stronghold. They failed every time. The Taliban were not having any success either.
Knowing that America would retaliate after the Sept. 11 attack, Osama Bin Laden made a deal with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Bin Laden would assassinate Massoud and Omar would allow him to hide in Afghanistan.
If the plot on Massoud had failed, he would have been a powerful ally to the Americans and Afghanistan would be a much different place today. A progressive, well loved and respected leader who inspired loyalty from all the tribes might be leading a forward thinking, unified Afghanistan today. Even the treatment of women would be different. Massoud was the first Afghan leader to have signed a petition calling for the emancipation of women.
Massoud could very well be considered the first casualty of the Global War on Terror. His death was the planned first stage of the terrorist attacks two days later. We need to remember the events of Sept. 11 to make sure that never happens again. The people who died that day should never be forgotten.
Today, Panjshir Valley is considered a sacred place. In Afghanistan, Sept. 9 is remembered as Massoud Day. They celebrate the life of a man they call “Our Martyred Commander” The Lion of Panjshir.