- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

The CIA has taken Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, reputed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, out of Pakistan, probably to Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani officials told United Press International on Sunday.

"We handed him over to the Americans on Saturday who later flew him out of the country," said a senior official at the Interior Ministry in Islamabad.

"The Americans did not tell us where but we have reason to believe that he has been taken to Bagram," the official said.

Pakistani newspapers had speculated Saturday that Mohammed might be taken to the U.S.-controlled base for interrogation. Other al Qaida suspects are being held there.

Although Mohammed had both Pakistan and Kuwait passports, after consultation with legal experts, Pakistani and U.S. officials declared him a Kuwaiti national and flew him out of Pakistan, the officials said. Kuwaiti officials were also consulted, they said.

Mohammed's family originally came from a Pakistani tribal belt in the southern Balochistan province but — like many among Baloch tribes with close ties to Persian Gulf states — later migrated to Kuwait where Mohammed was born and raised.

Had Mohammed been determined a Pakistani national, the extradition process would have taken longer. Pakistani laws require permission from a court before extraditing a national.

"Because he is a senior al Qaida leader, both Pakistani and U.S. officials wanted to fly him to a safe location as quickly as possible," the official said.

Before he left Pakistan, Mohammed was kept at one of the safe houses of the Pakistani military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

It was a group of more than 20 ISI officers who arrested Mohammed at 2:30 a.m. Saturday from the residence of a local religious leader associated with the Jamaat-i-Islami political party near Islamabad in a suburb of Rawalpindi.

ISI and CIA officials learned of Mohammed's whereabouts last week when they arrested another al Qaida suspect from the southern town of Quetta, which borders Afghanistan's Kanadahar province, the former headquarters of the Taliban movement.

Both ISI and CIA kept Mohammed under surveillance for at least a week before raiding his hide-out near Islamabad.

Besides Mohammed, they also arrested a Pakistani and another Arab suspect. Pakistani officials have offered to extradite the other Arab as well but the Pakistani would be tried in his own country, Pakistani officials said.

The house belonged to a local leader of a mainstream Pakistani religious party, the Jamaat-i-Islami.

The Jamaat is a dominant partner in the 11-party religious alliance called MMA, which has almost 50 seats in the Pakistani Parliament.

"Yes, he is now being debriefed by U.S. officials, most likely FBI agents," said a senior Pakistani official who did not want to be identified.

Mohammed is the uncle of one of the attackers in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and one of 22 men listed along with al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list. He is considered one of bin Laden's top lieutenants and the U.S. government had offered $25 million for information leading to his arrest.

Mohammed and his two companions "were arrested during a raid on a Westridge house," Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema told UPI by telephone. Westridge is a residential area populated mainly by retired military officers, but in recent years a large number of civilians also settled there.

"The raid was conducted on a tip to our law enforcement personnel," said Cheema, who heads Pakistan's National Crisis Management Cell. He did not say who provided the criminal tip, but noted it "was conducted entirely by Pakistani agencies" and the FBI "was not involved in the raid."

The intelligence information Mohammed is believed to possess — including, perhaps, the locations of bin Laden's hideouts as well as details of al Qaida operations and structure — makes him much more valuable for interrogation as an enemy combatant, the source said, adding that questioning will likely take place overseas.

The Justice Department official, who is in close communication with FBI operatives in Islamabad, also said that in the house with Mohammed were "multiple laptop computers and a significant number of documents pertaining to al Qaida."

He said he did not have details of the arrest itself but that the FBI was "heavily involved in tracking (Mohammed) down."

The FBI has an office in Pakistan and works closely with law enforcement agencies there, but it has stopped participating in raids due to protests by religious extremists opposed to Pakistan's cooperation with the United States in the war against terror. The CIA reportedly also has a presence in Pakistan.

The White House welcomed the news of Mohammed's arrest, saying in a statement that it "commends Pakistani and U.S. authorities on the completion of a successful joint operation." President George W. Bush was informed of the arrest by his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice shortly after dawn Saturday.

Mohammed was born in Kuwait in the mid-1960s: one of two birth dates listed for him on the FBI terrorist list is March 1, 1964. He is formally listed as wanted for his role in a 1995 plot to blow up U.S. commercial jets returning from Southeast Asia.

However, last June, U.S. investigators claimed he was one of the key players in the Sept. 11 attacks. Specifically, they believe Mohammed coordinated the suicide hijackers' training as pilots as well as the plot's execution on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bob Baer, a former case officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, told UPI that Mohammed also has been a member of al Qaida's consultative council and its military committee. Other former CIA officials also credit Mohammed with helping to set up al Qaida's decentralized structure and a two-tiered system to handle agents without exposing upper layers of the organization.

For example, he directed the set-up of terrorist cells in Germany and Malaysia to diffuse American scrutiny, UPI was told.

"He's the primary brains of the (Sept. 11) plot," one counter-terrorism official told the British Broadcasting Corp. "He planned this whole operation." Sources have also identified him for UPI as the current operations chief for al Qaida.

Mohammed was one of two al Qaida leaders who appeared on al Jazeera television, the Qatari-based news network, in a secretly taped and highly publicized interview last September. In it he and Ramzi Binalshibh discussed plans for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

His brother, Zahid Mohammed, reportedly has run an organization called Mercy International out of Peshawar, Pakistan. U.S. officials have linked the group to al Qaida. And Ramzi Yusuf, his nephew, is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing, on Feb. 26, 1993.

Baer also said Mohammed was the one who "gave the order" to kill Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl a year ago. Baer told UPI that he and Pearl were working on a project about Mohammed when the journalist was kidnapped and killed in Karachi, Pakistan. The newspaper has said Pearl was working on a story about Richard Reid, the so-called shoebomber.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials have identified the Pakistani man whom Mohammed was hiding with as Ahmad Abdul Qudus. His mother, Mrs. Abdul Qudus, is the city chief of Jamaat's women section in Rawalpindi, a city adjacent to Islamabad. His father, Abdul Qudus, is a physician and has lived in Sudan where he reportedly had links with Islamist groups.

Qudus's wife told reporters that more than 20 "uniformed men" broke down their door early Saturday morning and asked for their guests. "When I asked where were you taking my husband, they threatened to kill us," she said.

Later, half a dozen parliamentarians and local Jamaat-i-Islami leaders told a news conference in Rawalpindi that the raid was "ordered and orchestrated" by the FBI.

"Pakistan has now become an American colony, manned by FBI agents," said Mohammed Aslam, a member of Parliament from Islamabad.

The Washington Post reported Sunday Mohammed is also known as Muktar Balucci and graduated from North Carolina A&T; University. A master of languages and disguises, he is known for living lavishly and patronizing dance clubs during a period in the Philippines.

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(With contributions from P. Mitchell Prothero and Elizabeth Manning in Washington.)


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