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Was 'Mastermind' Really Captured?

by Robert Fisk Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2003 at 11:10 AM

Was 'Mastermind' Really Captured? By Robert Fisk The Independent | The Toronto Star Monday 3 March 2003

In the theatre of the absurd into which America's hunt for Al Qaeda so often descends, the "arrest" - the quotation marks are all too necessary - of Khaled Shaikh Mohammed is nearer the Gilbert and Sullivan end of the repertory.

First, Mohammed was arrested in a joint raid by the CIA and Pakistani agents near Islamabad and spirited out of the country to an "undisclosed location." "The man who masterminded the September 11th attacks," was how the United States billed this latest "victory" in the "war against terror" (again, quotation marks are obligatory). Then the Pakistanis announced that he hadn't been taken out of Pakistan at all. Then a Pakistani police official expressed his ignorance of any such arrest.

And then, a Taliban "source" - this means the real Taliban but "source" is supposed to cover the fact that the old Afghan regime still exists - claimed that Mohammed "is still with us and in our protection and we challenge the United States to prove their claim."

By this stage, it looked like a case of the "whoops" school of journalism: a good story that just might be totally untrue.

Not least because the last post known to be held by the Kuwaiti with a Pakistani passport was media adviser to the marriage of Osama bin Laden's son in Kandahar in January, 2001. Then there was the slow revelation that the man whose arrest was described by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer as "a wonderful blow to inflict on Al Qaeda," had been handed over to Pakistani authorities (if indeed he had been handed over) by the ISI, the Pakistani Interservices Intelligence - for whom Mohammed used to work.

Like the man accused of arranging the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, Mohammed was an ISI asset; indeed, anyone who is "handed over" by the ISI these days is almost certainly a former (or present) employee of the Pakistani agency whose control of Taliban operatives amazed even the Pakistani government during the years before 2001.

Pearl, it should be remembered, arranged his fatal assignation in Karachi on a mobile phone from an ISI office in the city.

True, Mohammed is the uncle of the 1993 World Trade Center conspirator Ramzi Youssef and a brother of an Al Qaeda operative. True, another brother was killed in a bomb explosion in Pakistan - he was allegedly making the bomb at the time. But claims that he was the Sept. 11 "mastermind" - "it's hard to overstate how significant this is," the ever loquacious Fleischer informed the world yesterday - are still unprovable. Hitherto, the nearest to a "mastermind" anyone got was Mounir al-Motassadeq, who was jailed in Germany last month as an accessory to mass murder.

The waters - and deep they are - were also muddied by the White House's claim that four men executed in an attack by a missile-firing pilotless drone in Yemen last year were "among Al Qaeda's top 20 leaders."

Whether they were numbers 2 to 5 or 17 to 20, no one at the Pentagon or White House could say. So how can we trust their word that Mohammed is a "mastermind?"

Of course, it may all turn out to be true. We may be provided with the proof the Taliban demand. Or Mohammed may be kept in Pakistani custody until another "mastermind" can be found.

Or it may just be that reports of the "arrest" of the likes of Mohammed is useful to Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf when he's just angered the Americans by criticizing any U.S. military attack on Iraq, or when Pakistan's new regional government in the North West Frontier province has just instituted Taliban-style laws in Peshawar.

All in all - as far as Mohammed's arrest and deportation and then his non-deportation are concerned - when constabulary duty is to be done, a policeman's lot is not a happy one. Especially if he belongs to the ISI.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)
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