Tuesday, March 4, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

US, Pakistani agents interrogate Khalid

Mahalaqa Khanum (left), mother of Ahmed Abdul Qudoos who was arrested by agencies for his alleged connections with terrorist networks, talks to reporters with her daughter Qudsia Khanum (center) in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Sunday. Qudoos was arrested in an early morning raid on Saturday along with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the USA, near the Pakistani capital, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said. — AP/PTI photo

Islamabad, March 3
Suspected September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed underwent a third day of interrogation today and analysts said US and Pakistani agents would concentrate on extracting details of plans for new Al-Qaida attacks.

But they said they would also be hoping for leads to the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden.

Interior Minister Faisel Saleh Hayat again denied media reports that Mohammed, described as the biggest catch in the war on terror, had been spirited out of Pakistan into the US custody following his arrest with two other suspects on Saturday.

“He is still in custody of the Pakistani authorities and is being interrogated,’’ he told Reuters.

Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, said yesterday Mohammed was being jointly questioned by Pakistani and US agents.

Analysts said US and Pakistan agents would work hard to extract information on planned Al-Qaida attacks which prompted recent security alerts in Europe and the USA as well as the whereabouts of Al-Qaida leader Bin Laden.

“The need is to forestall any possible attacks in Europe and the US which were being organised by Mohammed,’’ said author and political analyst Ahmed Rashid, an expert on Al-Qaida and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

“There have been alerts recently and these were probably related to attacks in the planning stages by Mohammed,’’ he said. “This is the major business,’’ Rashid said, adding that Al-Qaida cells planning such attacks would probably have started to scatter after learning of Mohammed’s arrest.

Security analyst Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier, told Reuters he was sure torture would be one of the methods used by the interrogators. “I would be surprised if they don’t,’’ he said.

Qadir said Mohammed’s arrest was likely to lead to more arrests, but not necessarily that of Bin Laden. “I am sure they will interrogate him about where Osama is, but I am sure he does not know,’’ he said.

NEW YORK: The arrest of a close associate of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and key Al-Qaida operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan came after a tip-off from neighbours, hoping for the US 25 million reward on him, a media report said today.

Time magazine quoted unidentified sources as saying that Pakistani and US FBI agents, who captured him in Rawalpindi on Saturday last, had been led to his hideout through the earlier arrest of an Egyptian in Quetta who had been in contact with Mohammed.

None suspected that Mohammed, who passed himself off as a Saudi plywood exporter, was leader of a radical Islamic cell.

Phone records led agents to Rawalpindi, where investigators say Mohammed had been hiding for 10 days before his arrest.

If Bin Laden is the “wrathful figurehead” of Al-Qaida, Time says, Mohammed, 38, has been its ringmaster. Several of his captured cohorts have described him as “the Brain.”

With 200,000 US and British troops stationed in Persian Gulf ready to move on Iraq, authorities feared that he would activate sleeper cells in the Gulf states or recruit fresh volunteers for suicide attacks against US military targets.

His network of agents in Kuwait (where he was born to a Pakistani father) and in Qatar — two key staging posts for the US command — are still intact, intelligence experts were quoted as saying.

“This is the planner, the key planner of 9/11 and probably Al-Qaida’s most active planner right up until his capture,” said a White House aide.

However, when US notified Qatar that Mohammed was a wanted man, he was tipped off and fled the Emirate, according to Washington intelligence sources.

Mohammed who has been flown to an undisclosed destination outside Pakistan, faces a line of interrogators: US military officials, the CIA, the FBI.

Even if Mohammed doesn’t talk, anything found on discs, on his cell phone or in his pockets that indicates names or locations of other Al-Qaida operatives could help in finding the lower-level terrorists who look to him for command and control.

He had remained remarkably elusive, apparently by keeping in almost constant motion. Several times in past six years — in cities like Karachi, Manila and Rio de Janeiro — Western intelligence agencies almost closed in on him only to find he had given them a slip.

Fluent in Arabic, English and Urdu, Mohammed is known to have used 60 aliases. His identity was kept secret even from many of his Al-Qaida operatives.

When Mohammed was not plotting destruction in Manila, he was partying, Philippine intelligence agents were quoted as saying. Mohammed took up with a bar girl he met at the Cotton Candy Club. Later he hired a helicopter and pilot to impress a female dentist he was courting. Reuters and PTI


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