Was 'mastermind' really captured? ROBERT
FISK SPECIAL TO THE STAR
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
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
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
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.
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