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Pakistan captured khalid { March 3 2003 }

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U.S. Questions Al Qaeda's Mohammed, Suspects Plots
Monday, March 3, 2003; 5:29 PM

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. interrogators are questioning al Qaeda operations leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a race against time to get information that could foil any potential plots now in motion to attack American targets, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The immediate goals were to find out about any attacks planned for the near future and the location of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before he moves again, U.S. officials said. They believe bin Laden is hiding in the rugged northern border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

U.S. officials say Mohammed, captured in Pakistan on Saturday, was intricately involved in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed about 3,000 people.

He is also believed to have been active in several current plots targeting U.S. interests, but officials do not have the specific details such as location, date, and method.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said officials knew before his capture that Mohammed had knowledge of a "significant terrorist plot" in the United States. That was partly the reason for raising the national threat alert to orange, or high risk, last month. It has since been lowered back to yellow, or elevated.

Mohammed had in the past spoken about blowing up gas stations and suspension bridges and when new, heightened "chatter" was picked up earlier this year, U.S. intelligence officials expressed concern that those could be the targets.

U.S. investigators were interrogating Mohammed at an undisclosed location outside Pakistan and the United States, as has been done with other captured high-ranking al Qaeda leaders, U.S. officials said.

"He undoubtedly knows about al Qaeda's most ambitious plans for terrorist attacks in the future, both inside and outside the United States. And he knows about what they have done in the past, and who did it, and how it was done and who helped them do it," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Other senior al Qaeda leaders captured previously in Pakistan and held in U.S. custody for interrogation at undisclosed locations were Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh, who U.S. officials say have provided useful information.


U.S. officials would not discuss interrogation methods, except to say that "all appropriate techniques" and "the full-range of permissible interrogation techniques" were being employed without crossing the line into torture.

"The standard for any type of interrogation of somebody in American custody is to be humane and to follow all international laws and accords dealing with this type of subject. That is precisely what has been happening and exactly what will happen," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

While some lower-level al Qaeda operatives have been turned over to the countries of their origin, which may not adhere to the same interrogation philosophy as the United States, the top-level operatives such as Mohammed would be kept firmly in the grasp of U.S. interrogators, officials say.

"We don't kick the sh*t out of them. Some of our friends do, but we don't do that," a former counterterrorism official familiar with U.S. interrogation methods said.

"These guys are unbelievably cocky, they believe God is on their side. So they believe even though they've been captured, ultimately they're going to prevail," he said.

Interrogators try to develop a dialogue with the captive using "good cop, bad cop" techniques in which one interrogator appears friendly as if protecting the prisoner from another more menacing one. Sleep deprivation and leaving the light on all the time are also methods used, he said.

While Mohammed was a potential source of very significant information, "we also know that these individuals are trained and programmed in the craft of evasion," Ridge said.

"It will be very very difficult to extricate information from this guy at this time," he told reporters. "But there is a potential source of some information here that could help us in the long run defeat al Qaeda and identify and bring bin Laden to justice," Ridge said.

Predicting what an individual will respond to in interrogations is difficult, another U.S. official said.

"You have to assume this guy (Mohammed) is still dedicated to inflicting as much suffering on the United States of America as he can," the official said. With that in mind he could be expected to withhold or tailor information to "try to move events in a direction he would want them to move."

Former CIA Director James Woolsey and other experts said it was more important that Mohammed be questioned overseas than brought before a court or tribunal because the legal procedures are time consuming and would hamper extracting information quickly to disrupt imminent plots and prevent attacks.

"These guys are all warriors in a battle against us, they are not felons," a U.S. government source said. "If nobody knows where he is, obviously for security purposes that works."

U.S. officials believe Mohammed may know bin Laden's location, but that information would grow cold fairly quickly after his capture as the al Qaeda leader was likely to move.

"I think he probably had good information, but it's not going to be current for very long," one official said.

U.S. officials said al Qaeda had been dealt a serious blow by Mohammed's capture, but cautioned the threat of a terrorist attack had not disappeared.

"There are operatives out there who must question their own safety, their own ability to operate, whether they have been compromised, whether their plans have been compromised," a U.S. official said. "One hopes they will spend more time hiding than plotting."

2003 Reuters

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