- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2010

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, regarded as Osama bin Laden’s official biographer, is facing a backlash after a recording surfaced of his reported conversation with Taliban terrorists revealing a discussion of a kidnapped intelligence officer who was later killed by Punjabi terrorists.

Mr. Mir is best known for his access to the senior leadership of the Taliban and al Qaeda and also as a television anchor for Pakistan’s GEO-TV. He is one of the only journalists to interview Osama bin Laden after Sept. 11, 2001, and he also had several interviews with the terrorist leader in the late 1990s.

Over the weekend, Jang Media, which owns GEO-TV, announced that it is investigating published claims that Mr. Mir offered advice to an unidentified Pakistani Taliban operative regarding Khalid Khwaja, a former Pakistani intelligence officer who was kidnapped on March 26 by the Asian Tigers, or Punjabi Taliban. On April 30, Mr. Khwaja’s captors killed him.

Mr. Mir is suing a media company for libel for printing a story based on the tape. Mr. Mir has told other Pakistan media outlets that his voice is not on the 13-minute audiotape posted last week to several Pakistani websites. He has said he is being set up. Mr. Mir did not respond to e-mails requesting comment.

Mary Habeck, a professor and researcher on political Islam at Johns Hopkins University, said of Mr. Mir: “Hamid Mir has crossed over from being an observer and journalist to an actor who is now taking part in things he is supposedly just reporting on.”

A U.S. official who is informed about the matter said Mr. Mir has been known for voicing anti-American sentiments for a long time.

“It’s an open question as to whether he’s crossed the line from someone with very good access to terrorists to someone who’s involved in their activities,” the official said. “This audio recording is the most serious indication to date that Mir may be more than just an extremist sympathizer.”

The audiotape posted on Pakistani websites features a conversation between Mr. Mir and an unidentified Taliban officer. The conversation centers around Mr. Khwaja, a former major in the Pakistani army and a retired officer for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s security and intelligence agency.

Mr. Khwaja, according to Bill Roggio, the editor of the Long War Journal, fought alongside bin Laden during the campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

In the conversation, the Taliban operative asks for Mr. Mir’s opinion of Mr. Khwaja and the journalist seals his fate by claiming the captured ex-intelligence officer is connected to the CIA and an Islamic sect known as the Qadianis, a group considered infidels and traitors by al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“I think that Khalid Khwaja not only has links with the CIA but also works as an agent of the Qadianis,” a U.S. government translation of the phone transcript said. “And I am very sorry that he visits the tribal areas and meets the people here and there.”

Mr. Mir then goes on to say that Mr. Khwaja had contact in the 1980s with William Casey, President Reagan’s first CIA director.

Mr. Mir also says Mr. Khwaja double-crossed jihadists in 2007 during the siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad.

Mr. Khwaja’s son, Osama Khalid, has said he will be suing Mr. Mir in Pakistani court, claiming the conversation led to the slaying of his father.

In a statement to the Pakistani press, the grieving son said: “We are going to the police and the Supreme Court in a few days to get a case registered against Mir as he was instrumental in the murder of my father by the Punjabi Taliban.”

Mr. Roggio said on Monday, “Hamid Mir’s discussion with the Taliban commander proves what many of us have known for years: He is more than just a jihadist sympathizer. He serves at times as an active participant by providing advice to the terror groups.”

This latest episode is not Mr. Mir’s first brush with controversy. In 2007, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Mr. Mir was a Taliban sympathizer and banned his television show on GEO-TV for four months during a period of emergency law.

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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