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Is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed a Pakistani or not?

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    Is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed a Pakistani or not?

    Their are some strange and conflicting theories about this. He is also said to be related to Ramzi Yousef, another alledged Kuwaiti of Pakistani "origin".

    Khalid Shaikh is said to hail from Balochistan, but his story makes it seem he is more Arab than anything else. He grew up in Kuwait.

    That leads me to another question about Pakistanis growing up in the gulf. Are they loosing their own identity to the extent that they can join an Arab terrorist group now? Though I'm not complaining if this guy disassociates with Pakistan, but I have to wonder the Arab influence on Pakistanis is getting a little too much.

    The CEO of al-Qaeda: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
    Mark Huband

    Under a clear night sky a convoy of four-wheel-drive pick-ups snaked along the slopes past the mountain tribesmen. Over the years, they had grown used to the dust and noise from the many vehicles that supplied the complex maze of hilltop military camps.

    Then the sky exploded.

    From within the convoy orders were being yelled over the sound of the blasts higher up the hill. A man called Salem Ali was in charge. He ordered the drivers to move on, and they sped away. A few minutes later a second convoy raced by and was gone.

    It was the night of August 20 1998. Six camps at Khowst, mountain hideout of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation in eastern Afghanistan, had been reduced to rubble by scores of Tomahawk Cruise missiles launched from US navy ships off the coast of Pakistan. America was avenging the deaths of 224 people who died when the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by al-Qaeda two weeks earlier.

    The two convoys disappeared into the night. The first, led by Salem Ali, was a decoy. Closely guarded within the second convoy was Osama bin Laden.

    An Afghan tribal leader who recounted the events of that night said the name Salem Ali was frequently heard, but few knew to whom it belonged. But he concluded from the brief words exchanged on the night of the Cruise attack that Salem Ali’s decoy was intended to save the al-Qaeda leader.

    “Even before the attacks we would only hear big jeeps carrying men with dark glass coming by during the day. Each time they came, we heard that it was either Salem Ali or another man, Fahd bin Abdullah bin Khalid, visiting the area. But nobody ever saw their faces in Afghanistan after 1998,” the tribal leader said.

    Now he is convinced that Fahd and Salem Ali were the same person.

    Whoever this mysterious man might have been to Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan, he has, over the past decade, been many different things to other people.

    To a New York prosecutor, Salem Ali was one of the aliases listed in the indictment of those who drove a truck bomb into the underground car park of the World Trade Center in 1993.

    To Catherine Brioso, a fun-loving girl in Manila, he was Abdel Majid, a Qatari who wore a white tuxedo and entertained lavishly at the Shangri-La and Manila Garden hotels. To Catherine’s friend Arminda Costudio, he was the man introduced to her simply as a “Sheikh” from Saudi Arabia.

    To Abdel Hakim Murad, an Arab pilot, the Salem Ali he met in Karachi in July 1993 was also the Abdel Majid introduced to him as a Saudi businessman, and he was obsessed with aircraft.

    To the Philippines authorities, the man known variously as Salem Ali, Fahd bin Abdullah bin Khalid, Abdel Majid, Ashraf Refaat Nabih Henin, Abdullah al-Fak’asi al-Ghamdior, had as many as 27 aliases.

    He is, in fact, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. He has a $25m reward on his head, and has admitted that he played a major role in the planning of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.

    As intelligence services around the world began to track the web of terror responsible for those attacks, it started to become clear that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had become al-Qaeda’s operational mastermind.

    Still at large, clever and cautious, he is to this day, in the opinion of a leading US counter-terrorism official, the man who gives security services around the world their worst nightmares.

    Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was the fourth son of Sheikh Mohammed Ali, a respectable man who in the early 1950s brought his family from the barren Pakistani province of Baluchistan to the thriving oil emirate of Kuwait. After some years, Sheikh Mohammed Ali took Kuwaiti citizenship, friends of the family say, though this is denied by Kuwaiti authorities, who appear to be trying to erase the family from its records.

    Sheikh Mohammed Ali became a prominent preacher at the al-Ahmadi mosque in a suburb of the Kuwaiti capital. But after becoming entangled in a land dispute with a powerful native Kuwaiti family, he appears to have been stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship, although the details are sketchy, and the other family said to be involved denies the dispute took place. But by the time Sheikh Mohammed Ali’s youngest son was born on April 24 1965, according to the passport with which he was issued in 1982, the family’s business and other options were greatly curtailed as they were now labelled “bidoon”: residents without citizenship.

    Thus Khaled, called Khaled Sheikh by his family and school friends, grew up in an ever-more prosperous Kuwait – now flush with oil revenues – but he did so with growing awareness of the class difference between his family and the rest of Kuwaiti society.

    In his teens, Khaled joined the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been created in Egypt in 1928 and had an active branch in Kuwait. His membership of the Brotherhood, the largest international Islamist organisation, later gave him access to the upper echelons of the global Islamist movement.

    On December 6 1982, he was issued with a Pakistani passport – number 488555 – by the Pakistan embassy in Kuwait, and, barely an adult, departed his bidoon homeland for the quaint though alien life of small-town America.

    Customs records show that Murfreesboro, North Carolina had by the 1800s cornered a profitable trade in agriculture which linked New England and the West Indies. The clinker-built, white-painted homes of the town mark the northern-most point of navigation on the Meherrin River, with Murfreesboro the deepest point the sea-going vessels plying the Albemarle Sound could reach into the fertile farmlands of southern Virginia and North Carolina. Tradition has bored deep into the identity of the prosperous town, which today boasts a famous watermelon festival and the solid education proudly offered by its flagship centre of learning, the 155-year-old Chowan College.

    “In order for our students to start their long journey known as college out on the right foot,” says the Chowan prospectus, “we promote community, experiential learning, leadership, and personal planning throughout orientation.”


      It was here, after a short visit to his ancestral home in Baluchistan where he spent some of his time riding a donkey across the desert, that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed arrived in 1983, apparently to study engineering. While the college has refrained from providing information about the man who has become their most infamous student, other Arab students from the time remember him well.

      “We lived in one building, had breakfast, lunch and dinner together – us and 30 Arab students,” said Mohammed al-Bulooshi, a Kuwaiti advertising executive who attended college in the US with Khaled Sheikh and remembers most of his friends as being Palestinians. “We all became quite close.”

      “Khaled, he was so, so smart. He came to college with virtually no English. But he entered directly in advanced classes. He was a funny guy, telling jokes 24 hours straight. He was focused. He wanted to get his degree and go home.

      “He was so quiet, there was no indication that he was involved in [religious extremism]. I would never have thought in a million years that he could be involved in these terrorist things – especially such an event as September 11. First of all, he was very smart, but he was not a strategic thinker.”

      He remembers that Khaled kept his distance from non-Arabs and non-Muslims at Chowan.

      “He didn’t like American life, and he didn’t talk with American students,” said Mohammed al-Bulooshi. “He was conservative, but so was I. He wouldn’t shake hands with women, but neither do I. His conservative attitude was something he brought with him from Kuwait, like me. Not something he learned in the US.”

      But there was another, emerging, more focused side to him. It appears to have been at least partly provoked by the agonising spectacle of the Iran-Iraq war, already well into the third of its eight bloody years by the time Khaled enrolled at Chowan. It split the Arab students of Chowan College just as it split the Islamic world. Even among Sunni Muslims, who dominate the Muslim and Arab worlds, the Islamic revolution in Shia, non-Arab Iran was seen as a model. Now it was under fire from the secularist Arab Saddam Hussein, who the west backed as a bulwark against that model.

      “Khaled sympathised more with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, and made fun of Saddam Hussein in student plays. The fundamentalist students stood with Iran more than Iraq in the war, because they disagreed with Saddam,” said Mohammed al-Bulooshi.

      In 1984 Khaled Sheikh moved to the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro to study mechanical engineering. Having been one of the sites of courageous anti-segregation protest in the 1960s the college awards an annual human rights medal to individuals who have “endeavoured to correct social injustice and have significantly contributed to the betterment of the world”. In 1986 he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. His old college friend Mohammed al-Bulooshi believes Khaled returned to Kuwait to look for work, but there is no evidence in Kuwait’s immigration records. It appears that, while in Greensboro, he had developed his own ideas for the “betterment of the world” and the time had come for him to put them into action.

      Even as Khaled Sheikh and other Arabs had wrestled with the contradictions thrown up by the Iran-Iraq war, there was a less ideologically compromising conflict under way that inflamed the passion of every Islamist and left no doubt in their minds about whose side they were on. In this case the front line was in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, where the seven warlords of the Afghan mujahideen confronted the Soviet forces that in 1979 had marched across the border to prop up Afghanistan’s weak and unpopular Marxist government.

      Khaled Sheikh’s first involvement in the Afghan jihad had begun at Chowan College with donations of secondhand clothes.

      “Every Muslim student at that time gathered donations for the Afghans – used clothes, T-shirts, that kind of stuff. We both did the same,” said Mohammed al-Bulooshi, who met the then largely unknown Osama bin Laden when he visited the Arab Students Association in the US in 1983.

      By the time Khaled Sheikh left America, his brothers, Zahid, Abed and Aref, had already heeded the call for Arabs to join the Afghan jihad. Abed and Aref were later to die for the cause.

      Six months after his graduation Khaled Sheikh followed his brothers and made his way to the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar. There, from a small shop among the alleys of the frontier town, the fiery Palestinian-Jordanian preacher Abdullah Azzam ran the Services Office of the Mujahideen, which organised the recruitment of Arabs in the Middle East and their passage across the tribal areas of Pakistan, through the treacherous canyons of the Khyber Pass and on to the battlefields of Afghanistan. The wealthy Osama bin Laden paid for the holy warriors who took discounted flights on Saudi Arabian airlines to take up their place alongside the Afghan Mujahideen in the jihad against the Soviet infidel. For five years, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed devoted himself to this cause and exulted in the victory that came with the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1989, and the eventual collapse of the superpower.

      On February 26 1993, a Ford Econoline truck hired from Ryder Truck Rental descended the slope into the underground parking lot of the New York World Trade Center. At 12.17 a 1,200lb bomb inside the truck ripped through the building. It killed six people, injured thousands and introduced America to Islamic terror.

      Several weeks later, a Pakistan airforce C-130 military transport aeroplane landed at a desert airstrip close to Quetta, the main city of Pakistan’s south-eastern province of Baluchistan. A joint team comprising two US Diplomatic Security Service personnel and several officers from the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency slipped off the aeroplane and made their way to an address in the city. They surrounded a house and broke in. It was the home of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the man the US had by then identified as the mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing and whose face had already appeared on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List”. But, apparently tipped off, Yousef had disappeared only hours before. A haul of documents found at the house in Quetta led investigators to Peshawar. This time they were looking for Ramzi Yousef’s uncle, Zahid al-Sheikh, brother of Yousef’s mother and of none other than Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. But Zahid, as his younger brother would do again and again, had apparently melted away.


        The website requires registration, so I'm posting the whole article. Sorry, I don't know what else to do.

        Investigators searched the house and found photographs of Osama bin Laden as a young man fighting in Afghanistan. In the same haul, some investigators say, were photographs of Zahid and Khaled with close associates of Nawaz Sharif, twice Pakistan’s prime minister in the 1990s. Even with US and Pakistani investigators on their trail, Zahid al-Sheikh and his nephew Ramzi Yousef must have felt confident that their ties to senior Pakistani Islamists, whose power had been cemented within the country’s intelligence service, would prove invaluable.

        Yousef made his way to Peshawar and stayed at the Beit al-Ashuhada – the House of the Martyrs – founded by Osama bin Laden. The World Trade Center bombing had made Yousef a celebrity, and even then he managed to live a semi-public life, attending weddings and recounting how he had committed the most devastating terrorist act the US had ever experienced.

        Later in Karachi, Yousef appears to have teamed up with the man who was to become his patron. Operating an import-export company from an office in Pakistan’s commercial capital, the man was known by a variety of names, including Munir Ibrahim Ahmed, Munir Madni and Abdul Magid Madni. He was, of course, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. According to an investigation by the writer Simon Reeve, the company imported bottled holy water from Mecca.

        Over a three-month period in 1993 a friend of Yousef’s, a pilot from Dubai by the name of Abdel Hakim Murad, met on at least three occasions with Yousef in Karachi along with a veteran of the Afghan war, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Khaled Sheikh, who on these occasions was using the name Abdel Magid. The subject of flying came up more than once. “Magid is a kind of person who is very much interested in pilot training,” Murad would later tell investigators.

        In September 1993, after treatment in both Pakistan and Iran for injuries suffered when a bomb concoction he was mixing exploded, Yousef gave Murad 18 days of explosives training in preparation for their next assignment. Their destination: the Philippines.

        Just before Adriatico Street meets General Quirino Avenue on its long progress from Manila Bay, there is a nightspot with an unusual attraction. On the roof of the Unplugged Acoustics bar and restaurant a light aircraft has been mounted, as if it had crashed there. Just around the corner, the two Arab men who booked into a small room at the Josefa Apartments on Quirino Avenue, might have regarded the aeroplane an apt memento of the deadly plots they hatched while they resided in the Philippines’ capital.

        On December 8 1994, Edith Guerrera, a stylish, confident businesswoman with bright lipstick and a winning smile, laughed with her reception manager when the two guests asked for a second registration form to fill out for their apartment. “Perhaps they have forgotten their names,” the women joked, as one of the men tore up the first form and filled out the new one they had given him.

        “Naji Haddad” and his accomplice paid 40,000 pesos up front in addition to a one-month deposit – 80,000 pesos in all – before taking the lift to the sixth floor, where a sign on the landing demands “Silence”. They checked into room 603, which had been booked in advance.

        The mistake over the hotel registration forms was untypical. The normally meticulous Ramzi Yousef was not a man given to forgetting his alias. With him was Abdel Hakim Murad, his pilot friend. They had both arrived in the Philippines earlier in the year, Yousef having spent time training Muslim rebels on the southern island of Mindanao. They chose the room for its fine view over General Quirino Avenue, the four-lane road that leads down to where the waves of the South China Sea lap against ships moored off the quayside of Manila Bay.

        “They gave me the impression that they were here to study,” said Mrs Guerrera. “They looked like students. They double locked the door when they were inside or out. They didn’t ask the room boy to clear up the room.” They brought boxes into the building, she added.

        Inside the boxes, it later transpired, were chemicals bought from a variety of suppliers in Manila and Quezon City, from which Yousef concocted explosives.

        Yousef and Murad’s activities in Manila were financed by Khaled Sheikh through a company called Konsonjaya, an import-export operation dealing in Sudanese honey and other commodities and based in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Among the directors was the operational head of Jemaah Islamiah, the south-east Asian regional Islamist network, a man called Riduan Isammudin but whom the intelligence world knows better as “Hambali”.

        It was not, however, all work and no play for Yousef and Murad. They were regulars at two karaoke bars – the XO on Adriatico Street and the Firehouse on Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City. Murad later said the one place they never went while they were in Manila was a mosque.

        According to Philippines police records, Arminda Costudio, a waitress at the smart Manila Bay Club on Roxas Boulevard in those days, remembered being introduced to a man called Salem Ali, described as a “rich businessman from Qatar”. He always seemed to be with Yousef, she said. Her description of him is the same as Murad’s description of Abdel Magid. Both referred to his having “excess meat” on his ring finger. She remembered specifically meeting “Salem Ali” twice at the Shangri-La hotel in Makati in mid-1994, where he wore a white tuxedo and paid for dinner with a wad of cash while giving out candies to the gathering. He had a girlfriend called Rose Mosquera, who worked at a bar in Quezon City.


          Yousef’s girlfriend Carol Santiago, whom he met at a Seven-Eleven store on Adriatico Street, said that she was introduced to a “Saudi businessman” by the name of Salem Ali. Arminda was the girlfriend of Wali Khan Amin Shah, the Afghan war veteran who was in on the plotting back in Karachi. He had subsequently joined the others in Manila.

          Meanwhile Khaled Sheikh travelled widely, as far as Brazil on at least one occasion, promoting the business enterprises he and the south-east Asia cell and the members of the Konsonjaya company were developing as a means of sustaining their terror enterprise. This gave Yousef time to both play and plot.

          Murad told investigators that at around that time he had sparked an idea in Yousef’s mind: why not crash a plane into the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia? “OK, we will think about it,” Yousef replied, according to Murad’s account, before heading off with Khaled Sheikh for a scuba diving course at the resort of Puerto Galera, south of Manila.

          This did not mean Yousef was in any way unconscientious when it came to his life’s

          work. Murad said Yousef was responsible for a string of bomb attacks in Manila: the Miss Universe pageant and an attack on Roxas Boulevard, both on May 21 1994, a blast near a Wendy’s Hamburger restaurant on November 13, and the bombing of the Greenbelt theatre on December 1.

          Later that month he carried a small bomb aboard Philippine Airlines flight PR434 from Manila to the island of Cebu. He left the flight during a stopover, leaving the bomb under a seat later occupied by a 24-year-old Japanese engineer, Haruki Ikegami. Two hours into the next stage of the flight the bomb exploded. A stewardess used a blanket to cover where Mr Ikegami’s legs had been as the aircraft descended and managed to land safely. Mr Ikegami died in agony. Today, Japanese tourists visiting Manila often ask Edith Guerrera, owner of the Josefa apartments, if they can rent room 603, to get a feel for the man who killed

          Mr Ikegami. “They say they are curious,” said

          Mrs Guerrera.

          The bomb on flight PR434 appears to have been a dry run for a more spectacular act of terror, known among the plotters as “Bojinka”, which means loud noise in Serbo-Croat. Yousef’s plan was to place bombs on 11 trans-Pacific airliners en route to the United States, timed to go off simultaneously.

          But such was Yousef’s devotion to his task

          that the Bojinka plot was not the only one he

          was working on. It was also the reason he

          and Murad enjoyed the excellent views over

          General Quirino Avenue. In mid-January 1995, on a visit to the Philippines, Pope John Paul was due to pass beneath.

          On the night of January 6, however, other residents of the complex complained about a smell coming from apartment 603 and Mrs Guerrera called the fire brigade. After trying to tell the fire officers to leave them alone, Yousef and Murad fled – and the plot to kill the Pope was uncovered.

          Later, Murad was nabbed when he returned to retrieve a laptop computer from the apartment. Yousef escaped, as did Wali Khan Amin Shah, though he was later arrested in Malaysia. But among the array of documents found in the apartment was a letter which hinted that while Ramzi Yousef had been obsessively indulging his love of chemistry, another player in the group’s awful game of terror was also at work. The letter was signed: “Khaled Sheikh + Bojinka”.

          Yousef made his way back to Pakistan. But before he could rebase himself in Peshawar as intended, a team of FBI, US Diplomatic Security Service and Pakistani officers swarmed into the Su-Casa guest house in Islamabad on February 7, a month after he had evaded the Philippines security net, and took him away. America’s most wanted man later told a New York court: “I am a terrorist, and I am proud of it.”

          Yousef is now in the world’s most secure jail, the “supermax” in Florence, Colorado. But the man who signed the Bojinka letter, whose wads of cash and white tuxedo had impressed the women of Manila, disappeared.

          As was his pattern, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed looked around carefully for somewhere he could feel at home and remain out of the limelight. He made his way to Qatar, the tiny Gulf state where Sheikh Abdullah bin Khaled al-Thani, minister of religious endowments, had “taken it upon himself”, in the words of a western diplomat , to welcome about 100 “Arab Afghans” some years earlier.

          Khaled Sheikh arrived from Manila and was put up in a private guesthouse at the police academy in the Qatari capital Doha. He was given a post in the ministry of public works, though under an assumed name, while continuing to travel abroad.

          But the net was closing in on him. In 1996 the FBI learned of his presence in Qatar. The US authorities did not then know a lot about him, but he had been indicted for his role in the Bojinka plot. But when a squad of Qatari police was despatched on behalf of the FBI to the police academy where he had been staying, they arrived to find it had been cleaned, tidied and emptied. Khaled Mohammed was flying west on a private jet, tipped off in good time.

          His journey ended in Kandahar, among the massed ranks of the Taliban, at the heart of the extremist movement’s power base in the southern Afghan city. The Taliban, born among Afghan exiles in theological schools in Pakistan, had won widespread popular support in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation. In 1997 Khaled Mohammed’s wife and children joined him there, and he started the process of incorporating himself into the world of Osama bin Laden, on the fringes of whose network he had lived and worked for more than a decade.


            Khaled Sheikh was able to offer bin Laden a ready-made terrorist infrastructure in south-east Asia. Ramzi Yousef had built ties with the Philippine Islamists, the Abu Sayyaf group, to whom he had given instructions in bomb-making. Through his fellow director on the board of the Konsonjaya company, Hambali, he was able to extend al-Qaeda’s tentacles even deeper into the Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai Islamist movements. These had grouped around the region-wide Jemaah Islamiah (JI) organisation led by Hambali and the Indonesian preacher Abu Bakr Bashir.

            One key al-Qaeda activist in the late-1990s was “Sammy”, the nom-de-guerre of Mohamed Mansour Jabara, a Canadian Arab. Sammy, who was briefed on JI operations during meetings in Karachi with Hambali, had risen to prominence by coming top of his class in the al-Qaeda sniper school. He wanted to become a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, but the al-Qaeda leader told him that because of his grasp of English and his clean Canadian passport, he would be useful operating in south-east Asia, and introduced him to his new boss – Khaled Sheikh Mohammed.

            By November 1999 Khaled Sheikh had also begun to face west. The germ of an idea which had been lingering in his mind for half a decade, was about to come to fruition.

            At a Kandahar guest house known as the Ghumad, Khaled Sheikh assembled his team, then relocated to the al-Qaeda camps at Khowst. Mohammed Atta emerged as the leader of this team, and for the next two years they were taken through their paces, guided and visited in Hamburg, their German base, by Khaled.

            In an interview in May 2002 with the Arab satellite television channel al-Jazeera, Khaled Sheikh gave an account of what had happened during that time: “About two and a half years prior to the holy raids on Washington and New York,” he said, “the military committee held a meeting during which we decided to start planning for a martyrdom operation inside America.” This was confirmed by Abu Zubeida, the head of the al-Qaeda training camps who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002. Other information has led US investigators to conclude that Khaled Sheikh did indeed conceive of the most spectacular terrorist atrocity of all time.

            The meticulous planning included intricate financial arrangements that allowed the 19 hijackers to pay their way while in the US. Investigators established that a central figure in that planning was a certain Mustafa Ahmed Aden al-Hawsawi, an al-Qaeda activist then based in the United Arab Emirates who subsequently disappeared, probably to Karachi. It was to al-Hawsawi that three of the hijackers wired a total of $25,000 of unneeded funds just before they went to their deaths. Bank records showed that al-Hawsawi had a supplemental Visa cash card, which was in the name of Abdullah al-Fak’asi al-Ghamdi. When investigators saw the photo ID taken for the application form for the Visa card the face was that of none other than Khaled Sheikh Mohammed.

            That face has haunted investigators ever since. On September 11 2002, the man who had helped Khaled Sheikh plan the attacks and joined him in bragging about it in the interview on al-Jazeera television, Ramzi Binalshibh, was arrested in Karachi. Even though investigators believe he was probably in Karachi at that time, Khaled Sheikh evaded the dragnet, just as he had done so many times before.

            Today he is the man more than any other that intelligence officers from Canberra to Kuwait City, from Manila to Washington, want to track down. After the suicide bombing of German tourists at a Tunisian synagogue last March, German intelligence said the culprit – Nizar ben Mohammed Nawar – had telephoned Khaled Sheikh three hours before the attack to inform him of progress, confirming his central role in al-Qaeda’s continued operations and his now legendary ability to evade capture.

            The south-east Asia team he had put in place also began plotting a series of bomb attacks against western embassies and personnel in Manila scheduled for December 2001, but then shifted in focus to Singapore, where the diplomatic missions were more accessible. Mohamed Mansour Jabara, the ace sniper who wanted to be bin Laden’s bodyguard but was assigned instead to Khaled Sheikh, was the lynchpin of the plots. He directed Jemaah Islamiah cells – called Fiah – under his nickname Sammy with an Indonesian bombmaker, “Mike”, whose real name was Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi.

            The Singapore plot was foiled when police there discovered video footage of the targets. Jabarah fled, but was arrested last March in Oman while en route to Pakistan to see his mentor. But his plotting was not in vain. The Jemaah Islamiah finally managed to pull off the “big one” when three bombs slaughtered 190 people – most of them foreign tourists – on the Indonesian tourist haven of Bali on October 12, 2002. By the time of the Bali bombing, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had long disappeared.

            As al-Qaeda gears up to exploit the insecurity expected to erupt if war breaks out in Iraq, its most illustrious planner is still out there. As evidence grows of new recruitment to extremist cells linked to al-Qaeda, it is the global vision and technical skill of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, now approaching his 38th birthday, that counter-terrorism officials believe will determine al-Qaeda’s future direction.

            As one senior western intelligence officer put it: “He is said to have been one who does not have bright ideas of his own, but runs with other peoples’ ideas as if they are his own. He is not only al-Qaeda’s operational head, but he has his own financial links, and as long as he is at large, he is probably as great a threat as anybody else you can think of.”