Terrorism's Missing Link — page 2


Terrorism's Missing Link — page 2
Wed Mar 5 00:23:46 2003

Terrorism's Missing Link — page 2


Terrorism's Missing Link — page 2

For now, there's little the fbi can do except step up its covert electronic surveillance of known al-Qaeda sympathizers in the area. It's impossible to tell where Mo-hammed may strike next. Even after 9/11, he continued plotting, shifting his deadly attention to U.S. and Israeli embassies in Southeast Asia. Mohammed has extensive connections in the region, which became chillingly clear after the arrest last April of one of his protégés, Mohammed Mansur (Sammy) Jabarah. A Canadian citizen of Kuwaiti descent, Jabarah has confessed to being one of Mohammed's terrorist emissaries to Southeast Asia. Under interrogation, he disclosed that he was handpicked by bin Laden at a terrorist training camp near Kandahar in July 2001 and assigned to Mohammed because of his language skills and Canadian passport.

Mohammed spent two weeks in Kara-chi teaching Jabarah his terrorist tradecraft: how to hide out in cities, how to contact Asian operatives and use encryption to protect his e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Jabarah was also given a mission: bomb the U.S. and Israeli embassies, either in Manila or Singapore. After flying to Malaysia, Jabarah joined forces with Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali, a shadowy Indonesian cleric and Afghan war veteran who is one of Jemaah Islamiah's top commanders and has since been named a suspect in the Bali bombings. According to Jabarah, it was Hambali who chose the embassies as targets, finally settling on an elaborate plan to detonate seven truck bombs simultaneously in Singapore. But the plot was foiled in December 2001 when Singa-pore police arrested 13 key conspirators. A few months later, security forces in the Philippines nabbed Jabarah's chief co-plotter, explosives expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, also uncovering a ton of tnt intended for the operation. Jabarah fled but was captured in Oman and turned over to U.S. authorities.

Mohammed is all the more deadly because he does not fit the standard image of a jihadi. With his easy smile and disarmingly placid eyes, he has a reputation as a charmer and a ladies' man. His English is flawless, and his intelligence formidable. He raced through an engineering degree at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro in just two and a half years, graduating in 1986. Afterwards, he followed his older brother Zahed to Peshawar during the Afghan war against the Soviets. There he met bin Laden.

In the years that followed, Mohammed headed to the Philippines where he teamed up with his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, to hatch several apocalyptic schemes. According to Philippine intelligence officials, the two plotted assassination attempts against the Pope and then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, as well as a scheme to hide bombs on 12 U.S. airline flights over the Pacific. They also planned an attack on cia headquarters in Langley, Virginia, using a hijacked commercial jetliner—a prototype for the 9/11 strikes.

When Yousef and Mohammed weren't plotting together in Manila, they were partying, say Philippine intelligence agents. Mohammed took up with a bar girl whom he met at the Cotton Candy Club. Later, he hired a helicopter and pilot to impress a female dentist he was courting in Manila. Yousef and Mohammed took their girlfriends scuba diving at beach resorts, but Mohammed remained an enigma even to the women he dated, who were Christians. None of them suspected that Mohammed, who passed himself off as a high-living Saudi plywood exporter, was the leader of a radical Islamic cell bent on killing the Pope and blasting planes out of the sky.

Mohammed's plans were exposed by accident. While experimenting with explosives in January 1995, Yousef set fire to his Manila apartment and fled. Other plotters arrested in Manila and Malaysia named Mohammed as their ringleader. But by then, he had escaped to Doha, the capital of Qatar, where according to one intelligence source, he was shielded by high-ranking members of Qatari society who secretly backed bin Laden. In 1996, Mohammed was indicted in absentia in a New York federal court for the airline-bombing plot, and a $5 million reward was posted. But when the U.S. notified the Qataris later the same year that he was a wanted man, Mohammed was tipped off and fled the emirate, according to Wash-ington intelligence sources. As for Yousef, he was captured in Pakistan in 1995 and convicted of carrying out the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. He's now serving a sentence of life plus 240 years in a New York jail.

Since his escape from Qatar, Moham-med's fingerprints have appeared on a string of al-Qaeda's bloodiest strikes. Sources say he was a member of the military committee that ordered the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa and the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. Mohammed has also bragged of playing a key role in the planning of 9/11. Last year in Karachi, he and Binalshibh gave an interview to an al-Jazeera television reporter in which they spoke proudly of executing what they called "the martyrdom operation inside America." On camera, they provided copious details of the attack, disclosing that in coded e-mails they had referred to the twin towers as "the Faculty of Town Planning." They also displayed a suitcase full of "souvenirs," such as handwritten notes to the hijackers, CD-ROM flight simulators and flying charts of America's East Coast.

This TV appearance by the enigmatic Mohammed, says terrorism expert Guna-ratna, provided a warning that al-Qaeda is "far from dead." In fact, with U.S. forces multiplying in Mohammed's backyard, his potential targets are multiplying. His enemies can only hope that the next time al-Qaeda's terrorism chief is cornered, he won't slip the noose again.

With reporting by Simon Elegant/Singapore, Ghulam Hasnain and Owais Tohid/Karachi, Elaine Shannon/Washington and Nelly Sindayen/Manila
Tue Mar 4 22:01:11 2003

Is there more to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than meets the eye?


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