Al Quaeda theory was 'suspicious and strange'
Moreover, while the anti-terrorist judge has recently received a total of 26 of the documents he has been seeking, he has been refused access to another 28 by Minister of Defence Alain Juppé, acting on the recommendation of the body that oversees defence secrets, the Commission consultative du secret de la défense nationale (CCSDN).
This is now clearly untrue, given that the report by the French foreign intelligence services, the DGSE, written on the very day of the Karachi attack, was only presented to the judge this January, following the latest of his repeated requests for the documents in November. Michèle Alliot-Marie was, in all logic, aware of its existence as it was written when she had just been appointed as defence minister, a post which places her in charge of the DGSE.
Meanwhile, out of the 40 DGSE documents that the government earlier agreed to de-classify at the request of Judge Trévidic, in July 2009, not one included a mention of the Agosta contract nor the suspicions of corruption linked to it.
For months, several of the Karachi victims' families, represented by lawyer Olivier Morice, have denounced the regular "obstacles" put in the way of the investigation by government, illustrated by the disclosure only now of documents written in May 2002 and September 2004. Their criticisms have been supported by, Bernard Cazeneuve, Socialist Party Member of Parliament for the Channel port of Cherbourg, where the engineers were based and where most of their close relatives live. Cazeneuve, rapporteur for the French parliament's mission of enquiry into the Karachi attack, has been outspoken in his protests at official obstruction of in the investigation.
The first of the three documents finally released, numbered NR 735, clearly entitled "Karachi attack", was written by a DGSE agent in the hours following the bombing on 8 May 2002. It was based on confidential information from one of the service's sources, whose name has been removed.
The document begins by noting that "the attack against French nationals at Karachi does not bear the hallmarks of an operation mounted by al-Qaeda".
It continues: "It is probable that the al-Qaeda organisation would in the first place attack American or British nationals. The suicide attack this morning is similar to other attacks perpetrated by terrorist groups based in Pakistan, such as Harakat Ul Mujahedin, Jaish e Mohammed, Lashkar E Tayyaba, Harakat Ul Jihad orAl Saiqa." Some of these are linked to the ISI, the principal Pakistani intelligence agency.
As Mediapart has already reported, a note by retired general Philippe Rondot, a former ranking French foreign intelligence officer, an adviser on intelligence and special operations (conseiller pour le renseignement et les opérations spéciales, or CROS), revealed as early as 23 May 2002 the existence of "questions over the role of the ISI" in the Karachi attack. According to Rondot, France at that time was not "precisely targeted by the terrorist threat" (see below).
The DGSE document of 8 May 2002 says that "if the attack specifically targeted French nationals, we cannot rule out the possibility of a financial line of enquiry". If the choice of words is cautious, the rest of the document shows that the secret services gave credence to this line of enquiry from the start.
The same report continues: "In Pakistan military contracts are 'famous' for bribes and commissions demanded by Pakistani officers and politicians. The French nationals who were killed were engaged in the supply and construction of submarines made by a French company."
The DGSE notes the existence of "rumours" which "mention commissions paid to the brother of General Musharraf or to General Musharraf and to his wife". This is a reference to General Pervez Musharaff, president of Pakistan from 2001 until 2008.
It continues: "The couple are said to have invested this money in the purchase of a house in the United States. The contract had been signed while Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, but persistent rumours spoke of the existence of bribes paid to officers (of the army or navy) and to the brother of General Musharraf, who lived in the United States." (Bhutto, assassinated in December 2007, was prime minister from 1993-1997, and was the wife of the current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari).
These various elements, providing a potential link between the Karachi attack and the Agosta contract, are reinforced by other documents. Notably a fax addressed on 9 May 2002 to the US consulate's security officer in Karachi, Rendall Bennett, in which his assistant, Bashir Zahooruddin, informs him that "Naval officers are convinced that this attack was aimed at scuppering the Franco-Pakistani project of building the submarines"1.
In the same DGSE report dated 8 May 2002 , it suggests that "it is suspicious and strange to note the eagerness of Pakistani officials - close allies of Musharraf - to accuse the al-Qaeda organisation and equally India, and this in the minutes that followed the explosion of the car bomb at the Sheraton," referring to the hotel in the centre of Karachi where the majority of the DCN workers were staying. The suicide bomber blew up his vehicle stuffed with explosives beside a minibus in which the engineers were seated, ready to leave for work at the Karachi naval shipyards.
1: This is a translation of an official French translation from the original English.