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The Mastermind's Many Roles in Al Qaeda

4 MINS READMar 15, 2007 | 22:22 GMT
Summary
The Pentagon on March 14 released written and oral statements by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to a U.S. military tribunal hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held March 10. The statement repeats much that was already known about Mohammed's alleged involvement in plots both successful and failed. It also reveals new claims by Mohammed of involvement in al Qaeda's media arm and its efforts to produce bioweapons.
The Pentagon on March 14 released written and oral statements by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to a U.S. military tribunal hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held March 10. The tribunal was convened to rule whether Mohammed can be declared an enemy combatant. The statement repeats much that was already known about Mohammed's alleged involvement in plots both successful and failed. It also reveals new claims by Mohammed of involvement in al Qaeda's media arm and its efforts to produce bioweapons. Mohammed's written statement was roughly divided into two sections. The first section contained seven items that defined Mohammed's position inside al Qaeda, while the second section contained 31 militant plots that Mohammed claimed to have been responsible for or otherwise involved in. The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources have previously released much of the information in Mohammed's statements. For example, it has long been known that Mohammed was a senior al Qaeda operational planner and that he was responsible for planning a number of high-profile attacks such as the 9/11 attacks, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 2000 attack against the USS Cole. His involvement in a number of failed or thwarted attacks was also known, including Operation Bojinka, a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II, Richard Reid's shoe bomb plot, the Library Tower Plot and the plot to attack U.S. financial centers. The document did contain some intriguing new items, however. One item in the first section of the written statement that stands out is Mohammed's claim that he had been the "Media Operations Director" for As-Sahab, al Qaeda's media production arm. Mohammed was arrested in March 2003, whereas As-Sahab was not widely known until 2005. While one must approach Mohammed's statement cautiously since he is suspected of providing his interrogators with disinformation — especially regarding the number of sleeper cells allegedly present in the United States — his claim about As-Sahab rings true. Mohammed has always been a man of grandiose plans, and sometimes the very complexity and grand scale of the plots has resulted in their failure. It is entirely possible, however, that he was involved with the formation and operations of As-Sahab, since garnering the public's attention has always been a crucial element of all his plots. He is, after all, the man who dreamed up the idea of hijacking 10 airliners as part of the "planes operation" (later downsized to the four aircraft hijacked on 9/11) and landing one of them to hold a press conference before blowing it up in a martyrdom operation. Flashy publicity is consistent with Mohammed's personality, or at least with the way he portrays himself to the world. Though As-Sahab was not widely known before 2005, it very well might have existed, at least in some form, before that. By the time it caught the world's attention in 2005, it could have been merely hitting its stride. While Mohammed's declaration that he was "responsible for the 9/11 Operation, from A-Z" would seem yet again to shoot holes through the claims of the many conspiracy theorists alleging the U.S. government was behind Sept. 11, he made another statement that undoubtedly will spawn other theories. Also in the first section of the written statement, Mohammed claimed to have been "directly in charge, after the death of Sheikh Abu Hafs al-Masri Subhi Abu Sittah, of managing and following up on the cell for the production of biological weapons such as anthrax and others, and following up on dirty bomb operations on American soil." The phrase "following up on dirty bomb operations" would appear to refer to Mohammed's relationship with Jose Padilla, the so-called "dirty bomber." Padilla reportedly met with Mohammed in Pakistan in March 2002, was given cash and then sent to the United States, where he was arrested upon his arrival in Chicago on May 8, 2002. The part of the statement that deals with the anthrax and biological weapons is another story, however. Mohammed said he oversaw the cell responsible for the production of biological weapons such as anthrax, not responsible for researching biological weapons such as anthrax. While this statement could be another attempt at disinformation, it could also indicate al Qaeda was not only researching biological agents but producing them. The claim could fuel the speculations of the many who believe al Qaeda was behind the 2001 anthrax letter attacks.

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