Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been taken into the custody of U.S. officials in Pakistan, Pakistani authorities told United Press International Sunday.
Mohammed, believed near the top of the al Qaida operational leadership for many years, was arrested at 2:30 a.m. Saturday at the residence of a local religious leader associated with Jamaat-i-Islami near the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
Another suspected al Qaida operative and a Pakistani were also arrested with him.
The Jamaat is a dominant partner in the 11-party religious alliance called MMA, which has almost 50 seats in the Pakistani parliament.
"Yes, he is now being debriefed by U.S. officials, most likely FBI agents," said a senior Pakistani official who did not want to be identified.
Pakistani newspapers have speculated that Mohammed may be taken to the U.S.-controlled Bagram air base in neighboring Afghanistan for interrogation where a number of other al Qaida suspects are also kept. Pakistani officials, however, refused to comment on these reports.
Mohammed, who also is uncle to one of the attackers in the first World Trade Center bombing nine years ago, is one of 22 men listed along with al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list. He is considered one of bin Laden's top lieutenants.
The U.S. government was offering $25 million for information leading to his arrest.
Mohammed and his two companions "were arrested during a raid on a Westridge house," Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema told United Press International by telephone. Westridge is a residential area populated mainly by retired military officers, but in recent years a large number of civilians also settled there.
"The raid was conducted on a tip to our law enforcement personnel," said Cheema, who heads Pakistan's National Crisis Management Cell. He did not say who provided the criminal tip, but noted it "was conducted entirely by Pakistani agencies" and the FBI "was not involved in the raid."
Officials at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington said the United States has not yet asked Pakistan to extradite Mohammed. "But if we receive an extradition request, in principle, we will have no objection," said a senior Pakistani diplomat while referring to a discussion with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Islamabad after Mohammed's arrest.
Legally, he said, Mohammed's extradition would be more complicated than those of other al Qaida suspects sent to the United States in the past because he has both Pakistani and Kuwaiti passports. His family originally came from a Pakistani tribal belt in the southern Balochistan province but -- like many among Baloch tribes with close ties to Persian Gulf states -- later migrated to Kuwait. Mohammed was born and brought up there.
Pakistan and Kuwait, the official said, do not have a treaty for dual nationality, "so first we will have to determine which nationality is valid before extraditing Mohammed."
In fact, a top Justice Department official told UPI the United States has no intention of extraditing Mohammed. The procedure would bring him to U.S. shores to face a civilian court for his role in a 1995 plot to blow up U.S. commercial jets heading home from Southeast Asia.
The intelligence information he is believed to hold -- including, perhaps, the locations of bin Laden's hideouts as well as details of al Qaida operations and structure -- makes him much more valuable for interrogation as an enemy combatant, the source said, adding that questioning will likely take place overseas.
The Justice Department official, who is in close communication with FBI operatives in Islamabad, also said that in the house with Mohammed were "multiple laptop computers and a significant number of documents pertaining to al Qaida." He said he did not have details of the arrest itself but that the FBI was "heavily involved in tracking (Mohammed) down."
The FBI has an office in Pakistan and works closely with law enforcement agencies there, but it has stopped participating in raids due to protests by religious extremists opposed to Pakistan's cooperation with the United States in the war against terror. The CIA reportedly also has a presence in Pakistan.
The White House welcomed the news of Mohammed's arrest, saying in a statement that it "commends Pakistani and U.S. authorities on the completion of a successful joint operation." President Bush was informed of the arrest by his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice shortly after dawn.
Mohammed was born in Kuwait in the mid-1960s -- in fact, one of two birth dates listed for him on the FBI terrorist list is March 1, 1964. He is formally listed as wanted for his role in the 1995 Southeast Asia plot, but last June U.S. investigators pointed the finger at him as one of the key players in the Sept. 11 attacks. Specifically, they believe Mohammed coordinated the suicide hijackers' training as pilots as well as the plot's execution on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bob Baer, a former case officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, told UPI Mohammed also has been a member of al Qaida's consultative council and its military committee. Other former CIA officials also credit Mohammed with helping to set up al Qaida's decentralized structure and a two-tiered system to handle agents without exposing upper layers of the organization. For example, he directed the set-up of terrorist cells in Germany and Malaysia to diffuse American scrutiny, UPI was told.
"He's the primary brains of the (Sept. 11) plot," one counter-terrorism official told the British Broadcasting Corp. "He planned this whole operation." Sources have also identified him for UPI as the current operations chief for al Qaida.
Mohammed was one of two al Qaida leaders who appeared on Al-Jazeera television, the Qatari-based news network, in a secretly taped and highly publicized interview last September. In it he and Ramzi Binalshibh discussed plans for the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed over 3,000 people in New York, Washington and the Pennsylvania countryside.
His brother, Zahid Mohammed, reportedly has run an organization called Mercy International out of Peshawar, Pakistan. U.S. officials have linked the group to al Qaida. And Ramzi Yusuf, his nephew, currently is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing, on Feb. 26, 1993.
Baer also said Mohammed was the one who "gave the order" to kill Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl a year ago. Baer told UPI that he and Pearl were working together on a project about Mohammed when the journalist was kidnapped and killed in Karachi, Pakistan. The newspaper has said Pearl was working on a story about Richard Reid, the so-called shoebomber.
Meanwhile, Pakistani officials have identified the Pakistani man whom Mohammed was hiding with as Ahmad Abdul Qudus. His mother, Mrs. Abdul Qudus, is the city chief of Jamaat's women section in Rawalpindi, a city adjacent to Islamabad. His father, Abdul Qudus, is a physician and has lived in Sudan where he reportedly had links with Islamist groups.
Qudus's wife told reporters that more than 20 "uniformed men" broke down their door early Saturday morning and asked for their guests. "When I asked where were you taking my husband, they threatened to kill us," she said.
Later, half a dozen parliamentarians and local Jamaat-i-Islami leaders told a news conference in Rawalpindi that the raid was "ordered and orchestrated" by the FBI.
"Pakistan has now become an American colony, manned by FBI agents," said Mohammed Aslam, a member of parliament from Islamabad.
(With contributions from P. Mitchell Prothero and Elizabeth Manning.)