- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The arrest in Pakistan of al Qaeda's top planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, along with the seizure of a treasure trove of secret al Qaeda documents, is believed to have thwarted for the time being terrorist attacks on targets in the United States.
Federal law-enforcement authorities said U.S. agents took custody of Mohammed after his arrest Saturday by a Pakistani security force. He was discovered at a house near Islamabad owned by a top Muslim militant.
The CIA is questioning Mohammed at an undisclosed location outside Pakistan, and agents are scouring for information on plots from computers, disks, cell phones and documents found at the house.
The documents include the names of al Qaeda operatives in the United States. These operatives are believed to be scattered throughout the country in "sleeper cells," including some in the nation's capital, authorities said. Mohammed not only planned al Qaeda's major operations but also vetted all its recruits.
The White House yesterday said it would be "hard to overstate the significance" of the weekend arrest of Mohammed, 37, identified as the key planner of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 people.
"The president expresses his deep appreciation and gratitude to President [Pervez] Musharraf and to the government of Pakistan for their efforts this past weekend that led to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attack," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "This is a very serious development and a blow to al Qaeda."
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also said concerns that his department had about attacks being planned by Mohammed led to a Feb. 7 decision to raise the nation's threat level from elevated to high.
"There were multiple reasons we raised the threat level, and his relation to one of the plot lines was one of the several," said Mr. Ridge, who dropped the level back to elevated Thursday.
Despite the arrest of the highest-ranking al Qaeda member since the September 11 attacks and an easing of the threat level, Mr. Ridge said the terrorist network remains a major threat to the United States.
"We cannot overestimate his importance to the al Qaeda terrorist organization," he told reporters. "But we shouldn't underestimate the continuing abilities that he has helped develop around the world. His capture takes a lot of wind out of those sails right now, but the planning has been going on for months if not years."
Mr. Fleischer also noted that when the terror alert level was increased to high, federal authorities had gathered information that could be traced to Mohammed, which "gave more credibility to our concerns."
Terrorism analyst Peter J. Brown yesterday described Mohammed's arrest as a "significant blow" to al Qaeda, saying the "curtain has almost closed" on the initial al Qaeda network.
But, he said, the "phenomenon and force" that needs to be addressed now is what he called "al Qaeda II," a highly decentralized offspring.
Mr. Brown said a new al Qaeda network has the "obvious potential" to become even more formidable than its predecessor.
"What separates the original al Qaeda from al Qaeda II? The presence in the region of so many U.S. military and law-enforcement personnel which has driven the entire movement deep underground, and which may spark a recruiting frenzy over time," he said.
Mohammed was captured in a house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, owned by Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party that holds the third-largest voting bloc in the country's parliament. The city is home to Pakistan's military headquarters, and many of the residents are former military officers.
State-run Pakistan Television quoted Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as saying Mohammed was traced through a satellite phone call he made from the western city of Quetta, where another al Qaeda suspect was detained in mid-February.
Also yesterday, U.S. government officials said authorities also had caught Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman, a son of the blind Egyptian sheik accused of inspiring the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
The younger Abdel-Rahman was caught several weeks ago in Quetta, the officials told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The American officials denied the Pakistani claims that the Quetta arrest helped lead authorities to Mohammed.
In addition to the September 11 attacks, Mohammed has been tied to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, a scheme in the Philippines to blow up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean, an attempt by Richard C. Reid to blow up an airliner with explosives in his shoes, and fatal bombings in Indonesia and at a synagogue in Tunisia.
He also has been identified in the January 2002 kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi. Investigators believe Mohammed was the man who slit Mr. Pearl's throat on tape after the journalist disappeared while doing a story on Islamic extremists.
The U.S. government had offered a reward of $25 million for information leading to Mohammed's arrest. He was among 22 terrorism suspects listed on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list and described by the bureau as "armed and dangerous." He had been on the run for a decade.
Authorities said Mohammed's questioning "by all means appropriate" will focus on efforts by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to attack U.S. targets again, including the use of suicide bombers in hijacked tankers to strike bridges, gas stations and power plants.
It was not clear yesterday when Mohammed last talked with bin Laden, although U.S. intelligence officials said the two have talked since the September 11 attacks.
U.S. officials have been successful in obtaining information from previously captured al Qaeda leaders.
Abu Zubaydah, a top member of bin Laden's inner circle captured last March, has provided information that resulted in several security alerts and in at least one arrest, that of Abdullah al Muhajir, the American born as Jose Padilla who is accused of plotting to use a radiological weapon on U.S. soil.

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