By Tahir Ikram and David Brunnstrom
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - After a decade on the run, the
suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks was being
interrogated by U.S. and Pakistani agents on Sunday after what
Washington called the biggest catch so far in the war on
Pakistan said its agents arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,
described by U.S. officials as one of al Qaeda leader Osama bin
Laden's "most senior and significant lieutenants," and two
other al Qaeda suspects at a house in Rawalpindi early on
Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez
Musharraf, said Mohammed was still in Pakistan being jointly
questioned by Pakistani and U.S. agents.
Earlier, a government official who did not want to be
identified said Khalid had been handed over to U.S. custody
shortly after his arrest, along with the two other suspects.
Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat denied this:
"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," he said.
"Only when Khalid's country approaches us and makes a
formal request for his extradition, only then will the
Pakistani government hand him over."
But Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said he could "give
no guarantee (Mohammed) still will be in Pakistan tomorrow."
Qureshi said the fate of Mohammed, born in Kuwait in 1965
of parents from Pakistan, would depend on the interrogation.
"The procedure is that whenever a foreigner is caught for
suspected links to al Qaeda, a joint team questions him so that
both sides can coordinate with each other," he said.
MAY KNOW BIN LADEN'S WHEREABOUTS
Analysts described Mohammed as a pivotal figure in al Qaeda
who planned its operations, vetted all its recruits and may
know the whereabouts of both bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed
Omar, fugitive leader of Afghanistan's former Taliban
The United States, under criticism for failing to arrest
the top leaders of al Qaeda while focusing on a possible war on
Iraq, was elated by news of Khalid's arrest.
It claimed joint credit and described Khalid as "a key al
Qaeda planner and the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks."
Pakistani officials said the others held were a Pakistani
and a foreigner of Arab origin. An intelligence source said the
third man was an Egyptian, but gave no other details.
Information Minister Rashid said on Pakistan Television the
men put up resistance. "Shots were fired but no one was
injured," he said.
But the family of the arrested Pakistani, Ahmed Quddus,
said he was the only person seized when 20 to 25 armed security
men raided their home in the middle-class Rawalpindi district
of Westridge before dawn on Saturday, and no shots were fired.
Some analysts questioned whether Mohammed had actually been
arrested on Saturday and speculated he might have been held for
some time and the news made public when it was in the interests
of the United States and Pakistan.
Washington had put a $25 million price on his head. He was
one of 22 people on the FBI's list of "most wanted terrorists."
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by
hijacked airliners killed about 3,000 people.
Mohammed was indicted in the United States in 1996 for his
alleged role in a plot to blow up 12 American civilian
airliners over the Pacific. Intelligence officials in the
Philippines said he was also part of a cell accused of plotting
to kill Pope John Paul in that country in 1995.
He is also suspected of involvement in the bombing of U.S.
embassies in Africa in 1998 and an attack on a U.S. warship,
the USS Cole, in Yemen in 2000.
REPORT OF LINK TO PEARL KILLING
A Pakistani newspaper further linked him to the kidnapping
and murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl. It said investigators
believed Mohammed was the man who slit Pearl's throat in front
of a video camera after the journalist disappeared in Karachi
in January 2002 while investigating a story on Islamic
The family of the 41-year-old Quddus said on Sunday he was
mentally slow and had no connection with any extremist group.
"My brother has never been involved in any bad things," his
sister, Qudsia Khanum, told Reuters.
Ahmed's father is a retired microbiologist who once worked
for the United Nations, while his mother is a member of one of
Pakistan's most prominent Islamic parties.
Interior Minister Hayat said investigations since the
arrests had yielded fresh leads that could lead to new raids.
The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives
intelligence committee, Porter Goss, said the arrest would
result in "other very successful activities soon."
Analysts said Mohammed could be vital to finding bin Laden.
"Given his key position and role, it would be very surprising
if he does not know the general location of Osama bin Laden,"
said Husain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington.
Mohammed is an uncle of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, now serving a
life sentence for involvement in the 1993 bombing of New York's
World Trade Center, later destroyed in the September 11
He studied in the United States, but moved to Pakistan's
northwestern city of Peshawar in the late 1980s where he and
his brothers are said to have linked up with bin Laden.
Hundreds of al Qaeda members and their Taliban allies are
thought to have crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan after
U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul.
photo credit and caption:
Image taken off the FBI's ten most wanted website, showing two images of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (as spelled in website), on March 1, 2003. Pakistan said it had detained a leading member of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and CNN identified him as September 11 attack probable mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The announcement followed the detention of three people in a raid near Islamabad. Photo by Reuters (Handout)
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