Sydney Morning Herald & Telegraph [London] March 04, 2003
The military commander of al-Qa’eda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was being interrogated Monday at a top secret American base known only by its CIA nickname, the “Hotel California”.
Speculation about the site of the base has included the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia, Afghanistan or Uzbekistan.
Among the al-Qa’eda VIPs thought to be resident at the base is Abu Zubaydah, another senior bin Laden lieutenant, arrested last March in central Pakistan.
The intelligence source said more al-Qa’eda operatives were in custody and being interrogated by the CIA but their names had not yet been made public.
He said: “KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] will never come back to the United States or Guantanamo Bay. He will be held in a basement somewhere in a third country where, shall we say, they do not worry too much about humanitarian laws and he will not be protected by the US constitution.”
He predicted Mohammed’s capture would one day be followed by that of Osama bin Laden, known as “OBL”, who was declared wanted “dead or alive” by President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks.
Mohammed is thought to have been pinpointed in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi after the CIA intercepted telephone calls and text messages to and from his mobile telephone. “The thing is that eventually these guys want to travel or to use their cell phones,” said the source. “When they do, that’s when we can get them. OBL could take his secrets to his grave as an old man but my guess would be he will not want to do that. He will make a mistake like KSM.”
Some senior US intelligence officials argue that it would be better for bin Laden to be killed by American forces and his death never publicised. However, they accept that this would not happen because of the huge political boost it would represent for Mr Bush.
They fear that killing bin Laden could turn him into a martyr and provoke a terrorist backlash against America. Taking bin Laden alive could yield immensely significant intelligence information but would lead to major dilemmas about whether he should be tried and executed.
The US authorities are also particularly keen to find Ayman al-Zawahiri, his Egyptian deputy, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a poisons expert allegedly linked to Saddam Hussein, and Said al-Adel, another senior figure. Mr Bush has talked frequently of suspects being hunted down “one by one”.
Mohammed was believed to have been planning more terrorist acts on American soil and was in touch with dozens of al-Qa’eda operatives.
Computer disks and mobile phones seized by CIA agents from the villa where Mohammed was arrested could provide crucial information about planned attacks and al-Qa’eda members still at large.
Interrogation of Mohammed could yield further information and his capture could also demoralise al-Qa’eda. A picture of an overweight, bedraggled and bewildered Mohammed was released by the CIA for just this reason.