|Khalid: A test for US
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The circumstances surrounding the
arrest in Pakistan and handing over to US authorities of
a man said to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, a reportedly
leading member of al-Qaeda, raise a number of important
issues, not the least of which is the credibility of the
US in its "war against terror".
is shrouded in mystery. He was reported to have been
killed in Karachi in a bloody shootout with Pakistani
security forces on September 11, 2002 (See A
chilling inheritance of terror) and there is dispute
over whether or not he was one of the key planners of
the September 11 attacks on the US a year earlier.
There is even doubt over Khalid's nationality.
Some say he is Pakistani, others that he is a Kuwaiti.
Certainly, though, he does appear to be of Pakistani
origin, probably Baloch, and raised in Kuwait. He is
thought to have been in Pakistan for about
two-and-a-half years, well before September 11, 2001.
Pakistani and US intelligence officials were
alerted to his presence in the country when he gave an
interview to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television
station shortly before the first anniversary of
September 11. On the strength of intercepted
communications through ordinary mobile phones as well as
satellite telephones, the net closed on Khalid.
Dead or alive?
According to an
official of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence
(ISI), Khalid was followed from somewhere in the eastern
district of Karachi to the Defense Housing Authority
(Phase II, commercial area), situated in the southern
part of the city near Clifton beach. There he entered a
two-storey building, which was then surrounded by ISI
and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials.
They were joined by hundreds of police vehicles and
Pakistan Rangers. The total number of law enforcement
agents at that time was 1,000 or more.
following is a reconstruction of events that were widely
reported in the Pakistani print and electronic media,
and information gathered from intelligence sources.
The building stands alone, with no access to the
ones next door. Initially, a few plainclothed officials
(including a major of the ISI and a civilian inspector)
entered the building and urged the people inside to
evacuate. A grenade was then thrown, which injured the
major and the inspector, forcing them to retreat.
Fresh troops then entered the building, and a
fierce gun battle broke out. At this point, according to
an eyewitness, a car carrying a few "white people" was
seen speeding away from the scene. Tear gas was then
fired into the building, and the shooting subsided.
Pakistan Rangers along with many plainclothed
officials and police surged into the building and fired
at two men in one of the flats, who were standing with
their hands up. One of these turned out to be Ramzi
Binalshibh, who had wanted to join the 19 hijackers for
the attacks on the US but who had been unable to get a
US visa. He was taken into custody.
suspected terrorists were captured, and two were killed.
A woman FBI official examined the bodies, and, as
reported by an ISI official, suddenly exclaimed, "You
have killed Khalid Shaikh Mohammad." The woman then
instructed that a finger be cut off the body, which she
took away, presumably for a DNA test.
wife and child were taken away to an ISI safe house in
the vicinity where they were interrogated by the FBI,
and it is said that the woman identified one of the
bodies as Khalid. Several weeks after this incident, the
then interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, stated in the
country's largest Urdu-language newspaper that Khalid's
widow had been handed over to Egyptian authorities.
Apparently, neither of the bodies was buried, a
departure from usual custom, and they were kept in a
private mortuary operated by the Edhi Home, a charity
organization. After several weeks, some women, said to
be widows and mothers of those killed in Kashmir and
Afghanistan, launched a protest in front of the mortuary
for the bodies to be handed over.
according to Pakistan print media reports, these protest
turned into big demonstrations which forced the
authorities to issue a statement that the bodies had
been buried in a local, unidentified, graveyard.
ISI officials close to the case at this time
were convinced, as were the FBI, that Khalid had been
killed. But they chose not to disclose the death as they
wanted other al-Qaeda members to attempt to remain in
contact with him through the recovered satellite
telephones, mobile phones and laptop computers.
Sources who had been involved in the shootout
and subsequent events were taken off all al-Qaeda
operations, and then the FBI stopped using the ISI
offices in Karachi and moved into a separate building
where one ISI colonel and a major were deployed for
coordination purposes only.
After this, reports
began to emerge that the FBI agents were claiming that
they had intercepted calls from Khalid himself,
originating in Karachi, and they were insisting that he
On the basis of these intercepted
calls, a raid was conducted in the outskirts of Karachi
on the suburb of Gulshan-I-Maymar, a thinly populated
region, especially Block W, where, after some heavy
gunfire, several Arabs were arrested.
day, some Pakistani authorities claimed in newspapers
that one of the people who had escaped, although
injured, was Khalid. People in the neighborhood who
witnessed the siege, though, say that with the building
surrounded and more than 600 police and Rangers in
attendance, it would have been very difficult for anyone
to escape. After this, Khalid's name seldom made the
news as the US-Iraq issue grabbed the headlines.
Back in the news
Then it was
announced that on March 1 that Khalid had been captured
during a raid on an apartment in Rawalpindi, the sister
city of the capital, Islamabad.
said that he had been handed over to the US, who took
him to their military base at Diego Garcia. This was
denied, and there were reports that the US had been
given someone other than Khalid. Later, he was said to
be in US custody at Bagram airport in Afghanistan.
In Pakistan there have been reports described as
coming from Taliban sources - members of the former
government in Afghanistan who are now hiding in
Pakistan, who deny that Khalid has been captured. One
says, "We know exactly where the guy they're claiming to
have captured is."
According to the local media,
Khalid was seized while in the house of one Ahmed Abdul
Qudoos, who, it turns out, is a mentally feeble person -
he is also being held in custody as an al-Qaeda member -
and as such receives a regular stipend from a United
"It was published in the
national press on the very first day after this raid
that the police conducted two raids in Rawalpindi and
arrested Arabs. I believe that they arrested these
people from some other location and showed them arrested
at the residence of Ahmed Abdul Qudoos, who is a
relative of a leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami's women's
wing," the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Karachi, Dr
Merajul Huda, told Asia Times Online.
Jamaat-i-Islami is Pakistan's most prominent Islamic
party and a part of an ultraconservative coalition that
gained an unprecedented number of seats in last
October's elections, largely on the strength of a
virulently anti-American platform.
Pakistani authorities officially admitted the handover
of Khalid. "We do not know what he has done, but since
we are convinced that he is KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammad]
we have handed him over to a country [US] where he is
wanted," said Pakistan's Information Minister, Shiekh
On the first anniversary of
September 11, the Bush administration was under fire
over poor results in its "war on terror", with no
significant arrests having taken place. Precisely on
September 11, 2002, the drama involving Khalid and Ramzi
Binalshibh began unfolded in Karachi.
Now, at a
time when the US is likely to have to delay its war on
Iraq a little longer due to Turkey's about-turn on US
troops in its country and the upcoming UN vote, another
coincidence occurs involving Khalid.
one has the final word on whether Khalid is dead, was
captured earlier, or is still free.
What can be
expected though, are reports establishing some degree of
Iraqi involvement with al-Qaeda operations, and stepped
up operations across the world against that network. For
if this does not happen, the Khalid arrest could be seen
as just one more hoax in the US-led "war on terror".
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