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Captured Al-Qaida Suspect Undergoes Interrogation - 2003-03-02


An alleged senior member of the al-Qaida terrorist network captured Saturday in Pakistan is being interrogated by intelligence officials. The arrest of Kuwaiti-born Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is being described as a major success in the U.S.-led global war on terrorism.

Washington has praised Pakistani and U.S. authorities for what it calls a successful joint operation that resulted in the detention of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is believed to have planned the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. cities. He has been indicted in the United States for his role in a plot to blow up U.S. commercial airliners in 1995.

U.S. authorities have also linked him to several other terrorists strikes, including the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation put his name on its list of 22 most wanted terrorists, and U.S. authorities were offering up to $25 million for information leading to his arrest.

A leading Pakistani author and political analyst, Ahmed Rashid, calls the arrest a major development in the U.S.-led effort to uproot the al-Qaida terrorist network and track down its leader, Osama bin Laden, and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taleban in Afghanistan.

"Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the main operations and military commander of al-Qaida worldwide. Over the last 11-years, most of the recruits who were taken in and trained by al-Qaida passed through his hands. He probably knows the whereabouts of most of [terrorist] cells around the world. He probably knows the rough whereabouts of bin Ladan and Mullah Omar," Mr. Rashid said.

Mr. Rashid said there will be a rush to interrogate the al-Qaida suspect. "I think Mohammed was very much organizing the latest terrorist attacks against United States and Europe, which we heard about last month, when the U.S. raised their security alert to orange, and the Europeans took major security precautions. And I think these plots were associated with groups who were in touch with Mohammed. So Mohammed will also be able to point the finger at groups who may be on the verge of carrying out terrorist attacks," he said.

Analysts say the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has demonstrated the crucial role Pakistan is playing in the fight against the al-Qaida network. Rashid said that this will likely improve Pakistan's relations with the United States.

"Pakistan was facing a lot of problems with the Americans on many issues, such as the accusations of nuclear-related equipment being sent to North Korea, tense relations with India and the issue of Kashmir infiltration, and the issue of harboring Taleban [fugitives]. I think for the time being this capture will probably allow the relationship to improve between America and Pakistan," Mr. Rashid said.

Pakistan has arrested more than 400 al-Qaida suspects in the past year. They include the terror network's suspected chief financier Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an alleged plotter of the September 11 attacks. But it has come under pressure to do more to guard its border region, where remnants of the Taleban are suspected of launching attacks across the border against U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.