N a t i o n a l
| Was Khalid arrested where the FBI said he was?
| LONDON–Inside the villa in Rawalpindi where police say they arrested Khalid, an old woman sobbed gently, shoulders shaking, as she gathered a black shawl around her head and across her mouth and nose so that only her eyes were visible, writes Christina Lamb.
Mrs Mahlaqa Khanum is the mother of Ahmed Qadoos, the 42-year-old Pakistani accused of sheltering the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Qadoos was arrested in the raid on the house that police say netted Khalid and another top Al-Qaeda suspect.
The family is no stranger to controversy. Qadoos is a cousin of Dr Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani heart surgeon with whom Diana, Princess of Wales, was said to be in love. But Khanum said any idea that her son was sheltering terrorists who are on the FBI’s most wanted list was “impossible”.
Pointing at a large cage of blue and green budgerigars on the terrace, she said: “These are his life. Ahmed is a very simple person. He had no job, he hardly went out, just to the mosque to pray. He never travelled and his main thing was pets. He loved pets. We wouldn’t let him have a dog because we’re an Islamic family, but he loved his budgies.”
Qadoos would watch the army dog-training centre behind the house for hours. His mother produced a medical report describing him as a “low IQ person” and a letter about his condition from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for which her husband, Dr Abdul Qadoos, a microbiologist, worked for 30 years in several countries.
A heart bypass operation forced the doctor to retire in 1985 while he was in Zambia. Now he is managing director of Hearts International, a cardiac hospital in Rawalpindi, although his own heart condition has made him frail.
The description of Qadoos as a simpleton is supported by the family’s neighbour, Colonel Shahida of the Pakistani army.
“Ahmed can’t be a terrorist,” he laughed. “He’s a goof, simple in the head. Once he shot himself in the hand because he was cleaning a gun with the barrel against his palm. They are a purdah-observing household. We never saw anyone strange enter the house.”
Kkanum and her husband were at a wedding in Lahore when their house was raided. Ahmed Qadoos, his wife and their two children Aisha, 12, and Bilal, 8, were sleeping in a downstairs room when they were woken by a loud bang. The door was forced open and about 25 police officers rushed in.
Qadoos’s wife said she and the children were pushed into a spare room and told to remain silent, guarded by an armed policeman, while for more than an hour officers ransacked the house.
“We were petrified,” she said.
When they left she called her cousin, Dr Surbuland, who lives in the next street. “It was about 4.15am. She was very confused and at first we thought Ahmed had been kidnapped because they had taken some dollars,” he said. “Everything had been turned upside down.”
The family have been given no information since then and were horrified to read in newspapers that Qadoos had been charged with sheltering a terrorist. “I’m so worried for him,” said his mother. “He was taken in his vest with no shoes, nothing – and he had flu.”
American and Pakistani intelligence officials say items including a laptop computer, a satellite phone, letters, cassettes of Osama Bin Laden and documents were seized during the raid.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Qadoos’s mother. “They took my diaries and address book, a box of family photographs, tapes of the Koran that I like listening to and a computer we bought last month for the children.”
Qadoos’s daughter Aisha said: “It was our computer. We didn’t even have the internet. It just had some games – Aladdin and The Lion King.”
It certainly seems an unlikely hideout for a terrorist on the FBI’s most wanted list – although, of course, that could make it ideal. Not only is the suburb of Westridge mostly inhabited by army families, but it is less than a mile from the headquarters of Pakistan’s army, which has ruled the country for more than half the time since it became independent. The peaceful streets could not be more different from the teeming bustle of Rawalpindi.
Ahmed Qadoos’s mother is an activist for the ladies’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan’s biggest religious party – an allegiance noted by Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the information minister, who announced the arrests.
“There is definitely a pattern here,” Rashid said. “This is the third time Al-Qaeda big fish are being picked up from the house of a Jamaat-e-Islami supporter.”
He pointed out that both Ramzi Binalshibh, the suspected 20th hijacker arrested in Karachi last September, and Abu Zubaydah, arrested last March, were discovered in houses belonging to JI members.
Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of the party, which is part of the opposition and is engaged in a campaign for General Pervez Musharraf either to step down as army chief or to renounce the presidency, is furious at the allegation.
“We’re an open organisation,” he said.
“We will give shelter to womenfolk and orphans, but not to anyone violent or to wanted persons.”
Intelligence officers say another pattern that seems to be emerging is the use of doctors’ houses as hideouts. In a war in which 1.5m people were killed and at least as many lost limbs, hundreds of thousands of mujaheddin fighting in Afghanistan were treated by Pakistani doctors and relationships may have developed.
While there is no doubting the huge importance of the capture of Khalid, last week’s raid does leave many unanswered questions.Would he really be travelling with phones, laptop computers, documents and lists of names in an organisation that for the past two years has relied on foot messengers, knowing that phone calls can be intercepted and used to trace their position? The Qadoos family point to the photo of Khalid released by Pakistani authorities, purportedly showing him under arrest in the house, looking fat and dazed in a baggy vest as he stands against a wall of peeling paint. A thorough search of the house shows there is no such wall.
“The family is lying,” insisted the information minister. However, he admitted that it was “perhaps unlikely” that Ahmed Qadoos was mixed up with Al-Qaeda, suggesting the real link was to another family member. – Courtesy The Sunday Times.