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Hamid Gul dies at 78; former Pakistan intelligence chief

Hamid Gul dies at 78; former Pakistan intelligence chief
Hamid Gul in Islamabad in 2014. Gul became the chief of the Inter-Services Agency in 1987, at a time when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were using the spy agency to funnel billions of dollars to militants fighting the Soviets during their occupation of neighboring Afghanistan. (Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

Hamid Gul, who led Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency as it funneled U.S. and Saudi cash and weapons to Afghan jihadis fighting against the Soviets and later publicly supported Islamic militants, died Saturday at the hill resort of Murree near the capital Islamabad. He was 78.

His daughter, Uzma Gul, said Gul suffered a brain hemorrhage.

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Gul's tenure at the ISI and his outspoken backing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other extremists highlighted the murky loyalties at play in later years when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath tested the U.S.-Pakistani alliance.

Gul came to be seen as increasingly out of touch later in life, appearing on Pakistani television warning of conspiracies and demanding his country militarily confront its nuclear-armed neighbor India.

"The unruly mujahedeen commanders obeyed and respected him like no one else," Gul's online autobiography reads. "Later on, with the advent of the Taliban's rise he was equally admired and respected."

Funeral prayers were offered at an army base in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad. Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif attended alongside other serving and retired military officers.

Born Nov. 20, 1936, near Sargodha in eastern Pakistan, Gul served in the army and fought in two wars against India. He viewed India with suspicion for the rest of his life, claiming it wanted to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Many believe he helped shape Pakistan's policy of funding Islamic militant groups to attack India's interests in the disputed Kashmir region.

Gul became the chief of the ISI in 1987, at a time when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were using the spy agency to funnel billions of dollars to militants fighting the Soviets during their occupation of neighboring Afghanistan.

Those militants later became the backbone of the Taliban and included a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden.

The government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto forced Gul out in 1989. He later acknowledged having forged an alliance of Islamist political parties to challenge Bhutto in the 1988 elections that brought her to power.

Despite being removed from office, Gul remained influential. Though unnamed in the 9/11 Commission report, U.S. officials at the time said they suspected Gul of tipping Bin Laden off to a failed 1998 cruise missile attack targeting him in Afghanistan. The operation came in response to Al Qaeda attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. The officials said he contacted Taliban leaders and assured them that he would provide three or four hours' warning before any U.S. missile launch.

Gul also was a close ally of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who received U.S. assistance during the Soviet occupation and was a bitter rival of Taliban figurehead Mullah Mohammad Omar. The U.S. declared Hekmatyar a "global terrorist" in 2003 because of alleged links to Al Qaeda and froze all assets he may have had in the United States.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Gul became an outspoken opponent of the U.S. while cheering the Taliban. There were allegations, however, that Gul had a more hands-on role. U.S. intelligence reports later released by WikiLeaks allege he dispatched three men in December 2006 to carry out attacks in Afghanistan's capital.

Gul at the time described the documents as "fiction and nothing else." Some of the reports, generated by junior intelligence officers, included farfetched claims such as an allegation that militants teamed up with the ISI to kill Afghan and NATO forces in 2007 with poisoned alcohol bought in Pakistan.

But Gul's anti-Americanism was by then well known. At one point in 2003, Gul said Pakistani officials would "turn a blind eye" to any Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters who escaped Afghanistan.

"The intelligence and security agencies are a part of the ethos of the country, and the national ethos today is a hatred of America," he said.

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When U.S. special forces killed Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, Gul helped spread a rumor that U.S. forces actually killed the Al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan and brought his body to Pakistan to humiliate the country.

"My feeling is that it was all a hoax, a drama which has been crafted, and badly scripted I would say," he said.

In conspiracy-minded Pakistan, many believed him. As the last line of his online autobiography reads: "People wait to listen to his direction before forming their own opinions."

Khan writes for the Associated Press.

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