By DAVID ROHDE
Published: December 6, 2001
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 4 — The tiny piece of paper is inscribed with the names, ages and nationalities of the hostages. Four Spaniards at first. Then an American. A 71- year-old Frenchman wrote his name and his wife's, the last name in capital letters, the first name in cursive. One captor, for some reason, kept this reminder of the lives he once held in his hands.
This scrap of paper from an Indian Airlines hijacking in 1999 was one item among scores of documents including terrorist training manuals found here Sunday in a house neighbors said was a headquarters for Pakistani militants.
Five men carried out the hijacking: four ticket stubs from the flight, two boarding passes and an Indian Airlines Airbus 300 safety procedure card were among the souvenirs left behind in the house along with the handwritten list of hostages' names.
The house was also filled with scattered documents — business cards, boxes of cassette tape labels, sheets of blank stationery, recruitment literature and fliers — bearing the name of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Kashmiri Islamic extremist group that American officials believe has long been supported by Pakistan. It has been on the State Department's terrorist organizations list since 1997.
The group was accused in the hijacking, but denied involvement. Its presence here suggests why a Taliban-run Afghanistan was of such strategic importance to Pakistan over many years: the country provided a haven for Islamic militants who could later be deployed to fight Indian rule of mainly Muslim Kashmir. Successive Pakistani governments have attached great importance to this campaign.
Along with the Harkat ul-Mujahedeen literature were more than a dozen small green artillery instruction booklets with "Al Qaeda" printed on their front cover. There also was an Arabic-language guide to making weapons that was dedicated to Osama bin Laden.
An examination of thousands of pages of documents left behind in seven houses and what appeared to be a training camp suggests that terrorists in training lived or worked in the houses.
Northern Alliance officials say there are scores of houses here like this one, abandoned since the fall of Kabul but once inhabited by Arab, Chechen, Pakistani and other militant foreigners.
American officials said they had removed chemical samples from 40 Al Qaeda sites and training bases here. This reporter visited one of those houses along with six other houses and the camp, all of which contained documents of various militant groups.
This house, like others, was pointed out to Northern Alliance officials by neighbors who were canvassed. They said they had noticed many Pakistanis and other foreigners using the house during the Taliban rule.
Some of the houses were open and could be entered. Others were guarded by alliance soldiers who allowed journalists to enter them. All the houses had been entered by Northern Alliance officials or soldiers or civilians living in Kabul. Many appeared to have been ransacked, some appear to have been cleaned out in part before they were abandoned, and in most there was evidence of some papers having been burned. It is not clear who might have been in the houses since the fall of the Taliban; nor is it clear whether anybody may have tampered with or left the documents during this time.
The Central Intelligence Agency has examined documents left in houses in Kabul, according to an American intelligence official. While the government has found some materials that show that Al Qaeda had an interest in weapons of mass destruction and was collecting materials on the subject, the official said nothing found was considered sensitive.
The array of materials found in the seven houses include forged visas, altered passports, listings of flight schools in Florida and registration papers for a flight simulator.
The groups seem to have been highly organized and appeared to share research sources and other materials. The same standardized terrorism textbooks, religious booklets and military manuals were in several houses this reporter visited.
The occupants kept detailed records, listing expenses on ledgers, using computers, setting up complex course schedules and grading their pupils as they progressed.
Books and materials found in the houses made mention of nuclear weapons, anthrax and other biological weapons, sarin gas and poisons like ricin.
There is also a lack of sophistication to the training materials and documents. While the groups may have dreamed of weapons of mass destruction, no evidence has emerged here of their actually having obtained any. Many of the texts in the houses are outdated and the plans sketched out in notebooks are crude.
But the house here and the Indian Airlines hijacking suggest that a combination of crude tactics, luck and determination can succeed, as they did on Sept. 11.
On Dec. 24, 1999, the five hijackers armed with knives and guns seized control of the flight from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi with 155 people on board. The hijackers directed it from India to Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and finally, on Dec. 25, to Kandahar, Afghanistan.