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Officials capture top al Qaeda operative

Discussion /

March 3, 2003 Posted: 3:01 AM EST (0801 GMT)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is pictured shortly after his capture Saturday during a raid in Pakistan.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is pictured shortly after his capture Saturday during a raid in Pakistan.  

With the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, U.S. officials may have won a major battle in the War on Terrorism. They believe Mohammed was a key planner in the September 11 attacks on the U.S., and they hope his capture will help them foil more terrorist plots in the future. Officials are holding Mohammed outside of Pakistan - the country where he was arrested on Saturday.

Mohammed was one of the most wanted men in the world; there was a reward of $25 million offered for his capture. He was one of four key lieutenants working for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, and his role in al Qaeda was a lot like that of an accountant. He managed the group's finances, and he helped recruit new members to the organization led by bin Laden. He has also described himself as the head of al Qaeda's military committee.

U.S. authorities say Mohammed was a key planner for the September 11 attacks, and that he has been linked to nearly every al Qaeda terrorist attack in the past five years.

Mohammed established a terrorist cell in the Philippines in 1995. His group allegedly aimed to carry out multiple plots against the U.S., including the planned bombing of American planes, the assassination of former President Bill Clinton, and the hijacking and crashing of airplanes into U.S. buildings.

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Col. Rodolfo Mendoza, who led counterterrorist operations in 1995, described Mohammed as a major player in terrorist operations. "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is educated. He can speak fluent English. I think he has some skills in flying and also in scuba diving," Mendoza said. Mendoza also said that he had interrogated a member of Mohammed's terrorist cell, and that he was told that terrorist attacks would move beyond a single suicide bomber to bigger operations by land, sea, and air.

Mohammed was believed to be behind the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole near Yemen, in addition to his involvement in the September 11 attacks. He had advised al Qaeda operatives like Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who planned to lay the groundwork for attacks on U.S. and British embassies throughout Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

But Jabarah's plan was foiled after a terrorist cell in Singapore was broken up. Jabarah was arrested and is currently in U.S. custody.

Aside from Jabarah, Mohammed handled five other agents, including the so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid. And Mohammed allegedly ordered the murder of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who was researching al Qaeda in Pakistan.

"Daniel Pearl was going in search of the al Qaeda network that was operational in Karachi, and it was at the instruction of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that Daniel Pearl was killed," said Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on al Qaeda.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said on Sunday that it was "hard to overstate the significance" of Mohammed's arrest. Another U.S. lawmaker called the arrest "huge," and President Bush called the event "fantastic."

Senior Bush administration officials also said that Mohammed likely has information on where other terrorists - possibly including Osama bin Laden - are hiding.

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