- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — Pakistani officials reconfirmed Monday that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in U.S. custody and being interrogated by a team of CIA and FBI agents.

"Not only that he is no (longer) in our custody, he is also out of Pakistan," a senior Pakistani security official told United Press International.

The "CIA or FBI did not participate in the raid that led to his arrest but took (him into) custody less than six hours after his capture," he added.

On Sunday, Pakistan's Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad told Radio Pakistan that Mohammed was still in Pakistani custody.

"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is in the custody of Pakistan's law enforcement agencies and until we have satisfied ourselves, after the interrogation process, of the nature of his activities in Pakistan, there is no question of handing him over to anyone," Ahmad said.

His remarks are in contrast with statements made by senior officials at the Interior Ministry, who told UPI that the CIA had taken Mohammed out of Pakistan, probably to Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan.

"We handed him over to the Americans on Saturday who later flew him out of the country," one senior Pakistani official said. "The Americans did not tell us where but we have reason to believe that he has been taken to Bagram."

Asked to comment on the minister's statement, Pakistan security officials, who did not want to be identified, said the statement "would be the official position for some time."

They said that the U.S. and Pakistan governments had agreed not to discuss the suspect's whereabouts until the investigation is complete.

"Nobody would know his whereabouts for the next few months," said a senior official. "He is too valuable to be fed to the media for wild speculation," he added.

Another senior Pakistani official called the suspect "a mine of information who can tell us all we want to know about al Qaida operatives and can also lead us to other key al Qaida operatives, if not (al Qaida head) Osama bin Laden himself.

"We believe the investigation may take eight months or more," he added.

Mohammed was arrested Saturday in an early morning raid on the residence of a local religious leader in Rawalpindi, which is near Islamabad. The son of religious leader Ahmad Abdul Qudus also was arrested, as was another suspect.

Initial reports identified the third suspect as an Arab but Pakistani intelligence officials told UPI on Sunday that he is "a mid-level Somali operative of al Qaida." They did not disclose his name.

On Sunday, Pakistan's military spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence also detained an army major, Adil Qudus, who is related to the Pakistani suspect held with Mohammed.

ISI is interrogating the major at a military facility in Kohat, a northwestern city near the border with Afghanistan. It isn't yet clear whether he is linked to al Qaida.

Mohammed, 37, has not been charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed about 3,000 people, but he has been charged in a 1995 terrorist plot. He is the first person on the FBI's most-wanted terror suspects list to be arrested, and is considered one of bin Laden's top lieutenants. The U.S. government was offering up to $25 million for information leading to his capture.

A Pakistani newspaper has linked him to the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. It said investigators believed Mohammed was the man who slit Pearl's throat in front of a video camera after the reporter disappeared in Karachi in January 2002 while investigating a story on Islamic extremists.

Mohammed narrowly escaped capture in a raid about a week ago in the town of Quetta in southwestern Pakistan, said Pakistan's Jang newspaper. During that raid, a Middle Eastern man, possibly of Egyptian origin, was arrested.

Pakistani security officials say that computers and discs seized from the house where Mohammed was hiding had already provided useful information about al Qaida, include possible terrorist attacks the group might have been planning.

Newsweek on Sunday quoted a U.S. intelligence memo dated Feb. 26 as warning that Mohammed was overseeing plans to attack targets in the United States.

Pakistani officials said that Mohammed was much senior to Abu Zubaida in the al Qaida hierarchy. Abu Zubaida, another close aide of bin Laden, was arrested last March, also in Pakistan.

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 to be a Pakistani national, the extradition process would have taken longer. Pakistani laws require permission from a court before extraditing a national.

Mohammed is the uncle of one of the attackers in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and one of 22 men listed along with bin Laden on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list.

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 said he was one of the key players in the Sept. 11 attacks. Specifically, they believe he coordinated the suicide hijackers' training as pilots as well as the plot's execution on Sept. 11.

Bob Baer, a former case officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, told UPI 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.

"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 attacks.

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 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.

The Washington Post reported Sunday Mohammed is also known as Muktar Baluchi and graduated from North Carolina A&T; University. A master of languages and disguises, he's 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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