New Delhi: As the United States gets set to mark 20 years of the 9/11 attacks this week, the trial of al Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the ‘principal architect’ of the attacks, and four other alleged conspirators, resumes Tuesday.
The five conspirators, who have been locked up in a prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for 15 years, will appear in the military tribunal for the first time since early 2019.
Khalid came to be known as the ‘principal architect‘ of the attacks, according to the 9/11 Commission which investigated them. He is said to be the one who came up with the plan and proposed it to al Qaeda.
He was also involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, as he had transferred money to one of the accused. This is when he first caught the eye of the US security authorities.
In 1995, Khalid was also named a co-conspirator of Operation Bojinka, a plan to blow up multiple international airliners over the Pacific, along with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 WTC bombing. However, the plan failed as fire broke out in the apartment where the conspirators were working. Khalid was seized by the CIA from Pakistan in 2003 and remained in secret detention for three years.
In 2006, he was reportedly transferred to the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Kuwait born, US-educated
Khalid, also known as ‘KSM’, was born in either 1964 or 1965 to Pakistani parents in Kuwait and grew up in the Gulf state. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 16 and later moved to the US. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University in 1986.
In 1987, Khalid visited Peshawar in Pakistan, where he was introduced to Afghan mujahid Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, head of Hizbulittihad El-Islam, who took on the role of mentor and provided him military training. Khalid also came in contact with Osama bin Laden for the first time during this period.
Between 1988 and 1992, Khalid helped run an organisation funded by Sayyaf, which aimed to aid young mujahideen. He also worked with Qatar’s ministry of electricity and water as a project engineer.
According to the 9/11 Commission report, KSM helped in training the chosen operatives and collected information material for the plan, as well as facilitating travel. In a 26-page transcript released by the Pentagon in 2007, KSM claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” he was quoted as saying.
Daniel Pearl murder & other cases
Khalid also confessed to beheading Daniel Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, who was brutally murdered in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002.
“I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,” his statement released by the Pentagon read.
“For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head,” he added.
He also confessed his involvement in 30 other attacks during a hearing at the US naval prison in Guantanamo Bay.
He was also involved in the infiltration of a military exercise in Kuwait which killed a US marine and injured others. During then-US president Bill Clinton’s visit to Manila in 1994, Khalid along with Yousef had also planned to assassinate him.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)