- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda terrorist arrested in Pakistan during the weekend, is one of the network's top five leaders. And U.S. intelligence officials are in a race to make him talk.
The hours and days after his capture are crucial to uncovering the identities and whereabouts of al Qaeda members around the world before they disappear or carry out major acts of terrorism to avenge his arrest.
As al Qaeda's principal military and operational commander, he is likely to know the whereabouts of the network's chief, Osama bin Laden, as well as plans for more terror attacks.
Western diplomats said there is a danger that operations in the planning stage could now be carried out swiftly by al Qaeda because groups in Europe and the United States would fear being exposed by Mohammed as he is interrogated.
"His arrest will cause a huge disruption in the international terrorist network and many people will be trying to move out of their present locations and houses," said a Western diplomat in Islamabad.
"We may have a chance to grab them if we know where they are. It's a huge opportunity, but it has to be done quickly," the diplomat said.
Mohammed, 38, a naturalized Pakistani born in Kuwait, is one of the most senior al Qaeda leaders after bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri. The United States had offered a reward of $25 million for Mohammed's capture.
European diplomats and security officials said intelligence that Mohammed was planning "something big" had triggered the enormous security alerts in Britain and the United States in the past month, when troops were stationed at London's Heathrow Airport for several days and Washington declared a heightened "orange alert."
"Mohammed knew everyone who passed through al Qaeda camps in the past 10 years and he knows everyone who is still free and out there ready to carry out more terrorist attacks," said a European security official.
In Afghanistan, he is said to have been entrusted with selecting the most promising al Qaeda recruits for advanced training to prepare them for implanting themselves in Western societies.
Almost every major al Qaeda operative arrested since September 11 has spoken highly of Mohammed, making him a prime target for Western intelligence agencies.
Pakistani officials were jubilant at the arrest, which came at a time when President Pervez Musharraf faced international criticism that his regime is harboring elements of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime.
It is widely believed in the intelligence community that Mohammed was a chief planner, organizer and financier of the September 11 attacks.
From his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, he coordinated the activities of the Hamburg, Germany, cell that carried out the suicide attacks. He also travelled to Hamburg at least once to meet with Mohamed Atta, the leader of the group of 19 hijackers involved in the attacks.
Last year, Mohammed described himself as head of al Qaeda's military committee, making him a key link in the organization's operations.
He also has links with Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the bombing last year in Bali, which killed about 200 people.
Mohammed was indicted in the United States in 1996 for his role in a plot to blow up 12 American airliners over the Pacific Ocean and he also was accused of plotting to kill the pope in the Philippines in 1995.

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