The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammedby Terry McDermott, Josh Meyer
The definitive account of the decade-long pursuit and capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the terrorist mastermind of 9/11
Only minutes after United 175 plowed into the World Trade Center's South Tower, people in positions of power correctly suspected who was behind the assault: Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But it would be 18 months after September 11/b>
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The definitive account of the decade-long pursuit and capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the terrorist mastermind of 9/11
Only minutes after United 175 plowed into the World Trade Center's South Tower, people in positions of power correctly suspected who was behind the assault: Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But it would be 18 months after September 11 before investigators would capture the actual mastermind of the attacks, the man behind bin Laden himself.
That monster is the man who got his hands dirty while Osama fled; the man who was responsible for setting up Al Qaeda's global networks, who personally identified and trained its terrorists, and who personally flew bomb parts on commercial airlines to test their invisibility. That man withstood waterboarding and years of other intense interrogations, not only denying Osama's whereabouts but making a literal game of the proceedings, after leading his pursuers across the globe and back. That man is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and he is still, to this day, the most significant Al Qaeda terrorist in captivity.
In THE HUNT FOR KSM, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer go deep inside the US government's dogged but flawed pursuit of this elusive and dangerous man. One pair of agents chased him through countless false leads and narrow escapes for five years before 9/11. And now, drawing on a decade of investigative reporting and unprecedented access to hundreds of key sources, many of whom have never spoken publicly-as well as jihadis and members of KSM's family and support network-this is a heart-pounding trip inside the dangerous, classified world of counterterrorism and espionage.
Operating Officer of Al-Qaeda."
This chilling inside account of America's cat-and-mouse pursuit of perhaps the world's most heinous terrorist reads like a real-life episode of the show '24.' Political ineptitude has delayed KSM's trial, keeping him hidden from the world. But now two intrepid reporters tell the story, unmasking not just a terrorist of historic dimensions, but also a country failing to adequately grapple with the challenge."Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side"
I couldn't put this book down, a tick tock thriller about catching 9/11's mastermind. In exquisite detail it tells a story of incompetence and failure, and ultimately brilliance and redemption. It shows how we failed, and how we finally succeeded after relearning the nuts and bolts of classic espionage."Robert Baer, bestselling author of See No Evil and Sleeping with the Devil"
Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer have written a completely authoritative account of the man who organized the 9/11 attacks and the often-bungled hunt to find him. The Hunt for KSM is a deeply reported page-turner about the race to find the man who was the Chief
Operating Officer of Al-Qaeda."Peter Bergen, author of The Longest War"
The Hunt for KSM is an important book, detailing one of most secretive and fractured investigations of our time. Fabulous reporting and great storytelling make it one of the best thrillers I've ever read. That it is all true and such a gripping story just makes the accomplishment of McDermott and Meyer even more astounding. I couldn't put this one down and neither will you."Michael Connelly
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The Hunt for KSMInside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
By McDermott, Terry
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2012 McDermott, Terry
All right reserved.
Faisalabad, Pakistan, March 2002
In the late autumn of 2001, just as the first fresh snows fell, the American military with its NATO and Afghan allies thundered into Al Qaeda’s Afghanistan redoubts; the foot soldiers of the terror organization, when still alive and able, largely fled rather than stand and fight. “It wasn’t a highly sophisticated effort,” said one American intelligence operative. “They were running around like roaches with the lights on, [having] totally miscalculated in terms of how the U.S. would respond.” Some had gone into hiding in the southeastern highlands of Afghanistan, but most had fled overland to Pakistan, hiking through the mountain passes that connect the two countries or taking the roundabout route through Iran. Many traveled on beyond Pakistan. Others stayed.
Pakistan was hardly foreign territory to the Al Qaeda fighters. Some had come from there originally; some had been based there during the long war against the Soviet Union; still others had been educated and trained there. Almost all had transited through Pakistan more than once. They knew the place. Something more than familiarity, too, made Pakistan a likely refuge. The country was woven through with a network of jihadi fighters, organizations, and sympathizers. Militant groups had been a feature of Pakistani life almost since the beginning of the nation. The original and persistent reason for their existence had been to oppose India’s efforts to control Kashmir, which Pakistan claimed as its own. The Pakistani government, particularly its principal spy organization, the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI, had blessed and supported the jihad movements in this role, legitimizing them. In many cases, ISI had created, trained, and equipped them.
Additionally, since the 1980s, there had been a Sunni-Shiite proxy war within Pakistan funded on opposing sides by Arab states in the Gulf, mainly Saudi Arabia, and Iran. An American diplomat in the region at the time described that struggle as “the confrontation to see who was going to be the dominant force in the Muslim world.” The intermingling of the original Kashmiri jihadis, the Gulf-Iran sectarian recruits, the later-arriving fighters focused on Afghanistan, and finally Al Qaeda and the Taliban had resulted in an indecipherable—and volatile—mess. Authorities were no longer sure what anyone was fighting for, and sometimes, it seemed, neither were the jihadis. Lack of clear purpose, unfortunately, had done nothing to reduce the fervor or the deadly results. Pakistan for decades had been at war with itself.
This underlayer of violent extremism was particularly strong in the Punjab, Pakistan’s rich central province, from which many of the early Kashmiri jihadis had been drawn. Faisalabad, a sprawling industrial and agricultural center of five million in the heart of the province, had been the home office of almost every significant sectarian jihadi group in the country at one time or another. So it wasn’t a great shock to intelligence operatives when they received word in mid-March of 2002 that the city might be harboring Al Qaeda fighters.
NSA’s computers had collected a string of intercepts that led CIA analysts to believe that a group of jihadis had holed up in Punjab. An intercepted phone call indicated that one of the group might be a man known as Abu Zubaydah, who had long-standing and close ties to the terror group’s inner circle of leadership. The estimation of Zubaydah’s precise role within Al Qaeda had frequently changed over the previous decade and even then remained fuzzy to the Americans. They nonetheless viewed him as a major figure, one who would know important Al Qaeda secrets. And he would certainly know the most important one—where was the next attack going to be?
The intercepts were inexact about precisely where Zubaydah and his cohorts were. John Kiriakou had arrived in Islamabad a month earlier as a TDYer, or temporary duty assignee, to help lead the CIA’s counterterrorism operations in the country. He’d been begging for an Afghanistan posting since September 11, and the Pakistan job came open as he was threatening to resign if not deployed immediately. He was a fluent Arabic speaker and that alone gave him real value, as did his time chasing terrorists in the Gulf and in Greece.
The agency had a clever piece of hardware called “the Magic Box” that could send out an electronic signal keyed to a particular telephone. If it found the phone within range, a ping would be sent back to the device. The agency had Zubaydah’s electronic signature from NSA. So for two weeks agents drove around Lahore and Faisalabad pinging for the phone, from two in the morning until dawn, when they thought Zubaydah was most likely to be using it. They made very little progress. The phone they were hunting appeared never to be in the same place two nights running.
One of the agency’s top analysts was also TDY’d from Langley to help pinpoint Zubaydah’s location. The analyst, Deuce Martinez, was regarded as one of the best “targeters” the agency had. He had arrived for the latest of several stints, just in time for the morning shift after a marathon day of flying. Martinez was told who the target was, and how the intel they had received was so vague as to render it almost useless.
Martinez went to work immediately. He put Zubaydah’s name in the center of an analytical report and then added lines radiating outward, representing NSA signals, ground intel, e-mails, and whatever else he could find—phone numbers of people Zubaydah had called or who had called him, and a second layer of calls made by and to the people he had talked to. He used a link-analysis computer program to build images of networks from the raw data. He drew his own crude reconstruction of the analysis on a huge piece of butcher paper pinned to a wall inside the CIA’s rooms in the Islamabad embassy. In a few weeks, Martinez had narrowed the range to fourteen distinct addresses that stood out as the most likely sites. Ten of the sites were in Faisalabad, four in Lahore.
Unable to further identify the location and unwilling to wait and risk letting Zubaydah slip away—or, worse, letting him launch an attack—Kiriakou’s boss, the CIA Islamabad station chief, Bob Grenier, decided to hit the fourteen sites simultaneously. The mission was so large and expensive he had to get the okay from Langley before launching it. Permission was granted and a planeload of equipment, agents, and weapons was flown in. Three dozen American CIA and FBI agents were rounded up to take part, and one of each was paired with an officer from the ISI. It was an extraordinary number of people for a clandestine operation, but even with that they needed help. They persuaded their Pakistani counterparts to provide the rest of the manpower for their little army. The Pakistanis agreed. It was a huge undertaking with a greater chance of chaos and failure than success.
With the local knowledge the Pakistanis provided, the Americans scouted the sites as well as they could. Two of the Lahore sites turned out to be bad matches—one was a kebab stand, the other an all-girls’ school. Many of the remaining sites were mud huts. Two of the Faisalabad prospects, however, were particularly interesting. One large house was curious because the shutters and windows were kept closed at all hours. Even in March, Faisalabad is hot and humid, and keeping everything shut up made no sense. Another property seemed odd because it appeared to be a vacant lot. How could phone calls be made from a vacant lot?
The Pakistanis assisting the Americans explained that in many large cities in their country, each physical property is assigned a telephone number. Whether it is occupied or not, wires are strung so that it can be activated quickly and cheaply when the time comes. One of the Pakistanis climbed the nearest pole and found that the wire assigned to the vacant lot had been spliced and a second line was run to the three-story house next door.
“We got ’em,” one of the other agents told Kiriakou.
On the night of the raids, the Pakistanis provided two big buses to take the strike teams from Islamabad to Lahore. At a safe house there, they were divided into site teams of four men each—one CIA agent, one FBI agent, and two Pakistanis. After everyone assembled in one room, Kiriakou climbed on a tabletop, and ordered everyone to synchronize watches—just like in the movies. The two Lahore teams transferred to small trucks and the rest took off for Faisalabad, another two hours down the road. The mission nearly ended right there. The highway to Faisalabad is a toll road and the lead car blew through the first tollbooth without paying. The Pakistani police chased it down and pulled it over. The whole caravan, including two buses full of guys in shalwar kameez bristling with weapons and communications gear, had to pull over and sit there and wait until the local cops were persuaded to let the lead car go.
They launched the attacks in the pitch-black two o’clock hour of March 28. The teams stormed the suspected hideouts without warnings of any sort, the Pakistanis going in first. CIA and FBI officials had set up a command post at a safe house in a central location in Faisalabad. They were waiting there in the dark when they began to hear the sounds of a gun battle coming from the direction of the house with the stolen telephone connection. Kiriakou and another CIA officer raced to the house, a pale peach three-story stucco home built behind high walls in the upper-middle-class Shahbaz Town district.
The Pakistan Rangers had rammed through an outer gate and the ground-floor doors, making a racket and igniting a full-scale firefight. By the time Kiriakou arrived, at least one of the residents was already dead. Under attack, three men attempted to flee. They ran to the top floor of the house, then tried to escape by leaping from the house to the one next door. They were spotted from below, pursued, engaged, and shot. One man was dead by the time he hit the ground. Another was screaming in pain, alive but incapacitated. The third man was wounded in the groin, abdomen, and thigh, and was bleeding profusely. Kiriakou wasn’t certain, but thought there was an excellent chance the wounded man was Zubaydah. He called Martinez for advice on how to identify the man. Martinez suggested photographing his iris, but the man’s eyes were rolled back in his head. Martinez said to photograph his ear, the configuration of which is as unique to each individual as a fingerprint. Kiriakou took a cell-phone photo of the ear and e-mailed it immediately to Islamabad, where it was ID’d as probably belonging to Zubaydah.
One of the Pakistani officers, aggrieved at having one of his men shot, offered to administer justice to Zubaydah on the spot. Kiriakou was firm; he had to deliver the prisoner alive. He stopped the execution.
The men in Zubaydah’s house never knew what hit them. At least ten were taken into custody. They had been living in the house for weeks. Beyond just hiding out there, Zubaydah had directed that classes in basic English and electronic bomb construction be conducted inside. He was also trying to arrange for new identity papers to be delivered to them. Among the cache of materials seized in the raid were telephones, stolen and forged passports from a dozen countries—including Somalia and Colombia—bomb-making manuals, military textbooks, diaries, videos, and cassette recordings. The materials were packed off to the embassy in Islamabad, scanned, photographed, and shipped back to Washington, D.C. The CIA team quickly bundled the wounded Zubaydah into the back end of a Toyota pickup, then raced to a local hospital, which was a mess—bugs entered freely from windows left open against the heat, geckos scrambled across the walls, the floor ran with blood and bodily fluids. Needles were cleaned by plunging them into a bar of soap prior to injection. The Americans deposited their dying prisoner on a bed and used a sheet to tie him to the frame, hoping to prevent any attempt at escape.
In the midst of this chaos, a cell phone started ringing. Over and over again. It didn’t belong to any of the agents. The Americans soon realized it was Zubaydah’s phone, which was in a sealed evidence bag in the room. The FBI, seeking to secure all the evidence from what they regarded as a crime scene, had stowed the phone in the sealed bag to be shipped away with the rest of the materials gathered at the scene. There it remained. Kiriakou and another CIA agent were eager to see who was calling Zubaydah, but they could do nothing but listen as the phone rang unanswered inside its evidence bag.
The incident was a stark illustration of a fundamental difference between the FBI and the CIA—a difference that was becoming ever more apparent as the two agencies jostled with each other on the front lines of the hunt for Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The FBI, given its criminal investigation into the 9/11 attacks, was primarily concerned with the past, with what had happened, with the crime that had been committed. The CIA was interested in the future, what might happen tomorrow, or even today. The FBI wanted evidence; the CIA needed intelligence.
Zubaydah’s condition was dire and his captors feared he would die before a definitive identification could be made, and before he could talk. So the Americans raced him by helicopter to a better hospital on a military base near Lahore, where he was stabilized. As soon as they deemed it practical to move him again, Zubaydah was hustled out to the Lahore airport in the dead of night. A CIA Gulfstream jet was waiting in a far corner of the airfield, and the agency wanted to get him out of the country as quickly as possible.
The FBI, as usual, had other ideas. Jennifer Keenan, a senior FBI agent in Islamabad, got a call at three in the morning that Zubaydah was en route to the airport and on his way out of the country. She had previously received instructions that she had to make sure the FBI had a good set of fingerprints from Zubaydah before he was shipped off to wherever the CIA planned to take him. Urgently, she called a couple of other agents and they raced off to the airport. They arrived barely in time. They met the antique 1950s ambulance carrying Zubaydah on the tarmac just as he was about to be transferred to the Gulfstream.
Reading reports on an investigative target, even dozens of them over years, is not the same as actually meeting the target in the flesh. The few photos obtained over the years by the U.S. government had shown Zubaydah as being wiry, even frail, and very bookish. To the agents’ astonishment, he was a big, buff man, strong as an ox, with wild hair. His impressive strength was probably the main reason he survived his injuries. Keenan’s two agents were big, too, and when they tried to get a set of prints from him on the tarmac, he resisted, consciously or not. As they wrestled with Zubaydah, the pilot of the plane stormed down the stairs, demanding to know what the hell was going on.
Kiriakou, who was trying to help the FBI agents, said they were trying to print the suspect.
“Who the fuck wants him fingerprinted?!” the pilot screamed.
Kiriakou’s response was equally forceful: “The director of the FBI!”
After they finally got the prints, the burly FBI agents stepped aside so the CIA could take custody. Two agency officers, both far smaller than the FBI men, eased Zubaydah out of the ambulance and put him on an old-fashioned litter to lift him up the rickety stairway and onto the plane. They dropped the litter, and Zubaydah fell face-first onto the ground. Blood spit everywhere, and he writhed in agony on the asphalt.
The FBI agents grabbed the litter back and hauled Zubaydah onto it and up the steps. As they were about to reach the top, the man on the lower end lost his balance, probably slipping on the blood, and staggered. His end of the stretcher tipped down with him and Zubaydah was about to flip off one side and fall twenty feet straight onto the tarmac below.
That fall almost certainly would have killed him, and with it the government’s best chance yet—by far—to ascertain Al Qaeda’s plots and plans. The FBI agent at the head of the litter was a well-muscled man named Ty Fairman. He single-handedly held the litter aloft and kept Zubaydah on top of it until his partner regained balance and grabbed his end.
Zubaydah was finally loaded on board. Within a minute or two, he was flying out of Pakistan.
Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, April 2002
The jet carrying Zubaydah eventually landed at an air base outside the city of Udon Thani in northeastern Thailand. Udorn, as the airfield was commonly known, had a long history with the CIA, having been the jungle-bound home base to the agency’s Air America during the Vietnam War. A secure interrogation facility was hastily improvised there. This new facility—one of the first of what would come to be called the black sites—had been arranged by the CIA and its Thai counterparts. It was in most regards perfect—remote, yet with easy access to the world’s airways; patrolled by friendly eyes ready to look away when asked.
Caring for and interrogating prisoners were not roles the CIA usually performed, or for which it was especially well equipped. The CIA gathered intelligence, not prisoners. In most cases, the Americans with the most expertise in the histories and handling of radical Islamists were members of the FBI, which had been investigating and preparing prosecutions of Islamist terrorists since the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. But in a secret “Memorandum of Notification,” the Bush administration had granted the CIA the lead role in handling Al Qaeda captives.
Winning the job away from the FBI had been an important bureaucratic victory for CIA director George Tenet, a master of Washington infighting. From very early in the War on Terror, Tenet sought to place his agency in control of the flow of information, and won for himself the ability to mold and disburse it as he saw fit. One of the FBI’s top counterterrorism officials, Pasquale D’Amuro, the scrappy former leader of the New York field office’s international terrorism operation, fought pitched battles in the Oval Office to protect the FBI’s role in the response to 9/11, but lost. His new boss, FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, was in no position to help him. September 11 was Mueller’s eighth official day on the job, and he—and the FBI itself—had no saviors in the upper reaches of the Bush White House. Worse, the FBI had been the nation’s principal counterterrorism force before September 11, and was seen, in the eyes of many within the relatively new Bush administration, as having failed to protect the United States against Al Qaeda. New circumstances demanded new methods, and the CIA put itself forward.
But when the man thought to be Abu Zubaydah, the first big fish to be netted after September 11, arrived in Thailand in early April, the CIA interrogators were nowhere to be found. Lacking its own expertise, the agency had chosen to use teams of outside contractors to conduct prisoner interrogations of so-called high-value detainees. The Zubaydah interrogation team was still waiting to be dispatched. Some in the CIA had not thus far been persuaded that the wounded man was really their target.
The mystery man nonetheless lay dying. So the initial interrogation—auspiciously, it turns out—fell to two of the FBI agents who happened to know the most about Al Qaeda: Ali Soufan, a brash young agent who was one of its only native Arabic speakers, and a former officer from the army’s 82nd Airborne Division who also spoke some Arabic, Stephen Gaudin. Both were veterans of the New York JTTF and highly regarded interrogators, but—even given that—had been uncertain what their jobs would be at Udorn. They had been told in no uncertain terms that their role in Zubaydah’s debriefing would be subordinate to the CIA’s. They would do what was asked. The orders they were given before being dispatched were firm: “You will help the CIA. If they want you to, you provide questions. If they want you to do guard duty, you’re gonna do guard duty, you’re just gonna do… whatever [they ask you to].” They would be “second chair” to the CIA.
The two were the only agents from the Bureau on the charter flight to Thailand. There were others on board who did not appear to be from the CIA or any other intelligence agency. Gaudin and Soufan had no idea who these people were. The plane landed in Thailand ahead of Zubaydah’s flight from Pakistan. When Zubaydah arrived and was wheeled into the crude interrogation facility, the agents realized the other occupants of their plane had been medical personnel. One of the men who ultimately attended to him was a top-notch surgeon from Johns Hopkins who was there as a favor to a top CIA official. Zubaydah was in dire condition. The medical staff went to work.
Although the CIA interrogation team had yet to arrive, the agency personnel who had set up the site were there. Once the prisoner’s condition had stabilized enough, the CIA officer in charge turned to Gaudin and Soufan and said, “Aren’t you guys going to get in there and start talking to him?” The fear—dread, really—that prevailed then was that the attacks of 9/11 were simply a precursor to whatever would follow. The FBI men asked where the CIA interrogators were and were told it didn’t matter—time was short and they needed to find out as quickly as possible if this was Zubaydah and, if so, what he knew. “You two guys are it,” the CIA man said. “There’s nobody else here to do the interview.”
The FBI had perfected and practiced its own style of interrogation over decades. It required agents to accomplish two main tasks—persuade the person being interrogated that the agents genuinely cared for him, and persuade the prisoner that the agents already knew the answers to most questions they asked; lying was futile. As basic as this approach seems, it had held up amazingly well over time. It worked. Soufan and Gaudin were highly regarded practitioners. Gaudin in particular became a star at the FBI for getting one of the 1998 Africa embassy bombers to confess.
Almost all FBI interviews have one overarching purpose. The Bureau is a law enforcement agency whose primary focus is gathering evidence to take to trial. Agents aren’t single-minded, however. They say they know the value of information, and have often used the threat of a long prison sentence to get it. Interrogating suspects about a larger universe of coconspirators is a technique that the FBI has used to bring down entire Mafia crime families, for example, despite those organizations’ code of silence.
Agents typically start an interview by pulling out their badges, telling the suspect who they are, reading him his Miranda rights, and asking the suspect if he wants to talk. This circumstance was different. All anybody wanted to know from Zubaydah was how to stop the next attack. It sometimes seemed that was all anybody in government wanted to know, period. Because Zubaydah was still in mortal danger from his wounds, the interviews had to be brief and to the point. Then the agents would have to give up the room to the medical team, often for hours, before the prisoner was able to resume. They would alternate in that fashion for days.
Zubaydah was encouragingly cooperative in the first round. Because both agents had studied and investigated Al Qaeda for years, they knew Zubaydah’s history, his hometown, his nicknames, his parents’ names—even his e-mail addresses. They used this information to test Zubaydah’s reliability. In fact, they told him that this was exactly what they were going to do. We’ll know when you’re lying, they said, so don’t waste our time.
“If you’d rather not talk to us, say ‘I don’t have anything to say,’ but don’t lie to us,” Gaudin told him. Zubaydah lied right off the bat. Asked his name, he replied that he was Abdel Moneim Madbouly, a famous Egyptian film comedian of the black-and-white era. It was like saying he was Bob Hope, such an obvious lie that all three men—Soufan, Gaudin, and then Zubaydah—laughed out loud. When Soufan subsequently addressed him as Hani, his mother’s pet name for him, Zubaydah, taken aback, told them they didn’t need him to say his name, that they already knew who he was. Gaudin agreed, but told Zubaydah they had to hear it from him. “It’s a test. We’re testing you,” he said.
Many FBI case agents keep what they call to-go bags close at hand for their active investigations. The bags contain all relevant information on a suspect so that all an agent has to do if he’s called out of town on a case is grab the bag and go. Gaudin ordinarily used a lawyer’s accordion file to hold documents in his to-go bag. But he didn’t have one for Zubaydah, and when he got the call to go to Thailand, he only had time to download the wanted posters of suspected terrorists from the FBI website. His Bureau laptop was broken, a common problem, so he loaded the posters onto his PDA, an awkward little handheld computer made by Hewlett-Packard called a Jornada. It was an obscure device, so much so that Gaudin’s colleagues teased him about buying the only one ever made. Zubaydah had been around Al Qaeda so long—since the early 1990s—that he was presumed to know everyone of significance in the organization. So one of the tests Gaudin and Soufan would use to assess Zubaydah’s reliability was his willingness and ability to identify faces on the wanted posters. Not all the wanted terrorists were Al Qaeda members, but enough of them were so that the test should prove useful.
The world of radical Islam was hardly a unified front. It was fractious, disordered, with different organizations and different agendas that often competed with one another. Even individuals who seemed to have similar goals did not appear to be connected. Before 9/11, the most famous Islamist terrorist in the world was Ramzi Yousef, a nom de guerre for a Kuwaiti-born Pakistani named Abdul Basit Abdul Karim. Yousef had attempted to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six people, wounding scores of others, and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. He had escaped New York the night of that attack and joined forces with his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital.
After Yousef’s near-glorious success in New York, the two headed to the Philippines, where they hatched plans to assassinate the Roman Catholic pope and the American president, Bill Clinton, and blow up a dozen American-flagged jumbo jets in flight eastward over the Pacific. One Japanese man had been killed during a test run of their homemade explosives. Their plans were scuttled in January of 1995 by Yousef’s carelessness, which eventually led to his arrest. Mohammed, however, got away, and had been quietly pursued by a handful of counterterrorism agents ever since.
Mohammed, whom the agents habitually referred to as KSM, traveled the world with aplomb, setting up terror cells in one place, negotiating to sell holy water from Mecca or buy frozen chicken parts in another. So far as the investigators knew, Yousef and KSM were their own bosses, belonging to no organization other than the fictional Liberation Army Yousef had created to take credit for the first World Trade Center attack. KSM had become an obsession to some among his pursuers, especially to the lead agent on the Philippine case, an idiosyncratic former CPA named Francis J. “Frank” Pellegrino. Pellegrino, an FBI agent out of New York, pursued KSM relentlessly to the four corners of the globe; he had come close to catching him more than once, but whenever he got near enough to touch him, his quarry vanished, like smoke on the wind.
The plot to blow up the airliners wasn’t regarded as an Al Qaeda operation, and there was no information suggesting Yousef and Mohammed were Al Qaeda affiliates. As bin Laden rose in prominence, the FBI team chasing KSM began to feel as though everyone had forgotten that he, too, wanted to kill Americans—thousands of them at once. KSM was secretly indicted in the U.S. in 1996, thanks in large part to the overseas gumshoe work of Pellegrino and a partner. When the indictment was unsealed at a high-profile news conference following Basit’s sentencing two years later, virtually no one noticed, much less publicized it. By then, if your target wasn’t Al Qaeda, it didn’t matter. Beyond Pellegrino and a handful of other agents, no one spent much time worrying about KSM or even thinking about him. In the year prior to September 11, as hints and clues of a major attack accumulated, the Manila case receded even further into bureaucratic backwaters.
Al Qaeda grew to dwarf all other terrorist targets. Its activities dominated threat reporting within the intelligence community, especially after its bombings of the two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the American warship USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. In the final months before the 9/11 strikes, the intel channels hummed with reports that Al Qaeda was planning something spectacular.
Even the president was briefed on the looming threat. One mysterious name was persistently associated with these Al Qaeda plans—Mukhtar, which in Arabic can mean “the head,” “the brain,” or “the chosen one.” No one knew who, exactly, Mukhtar was, but some of the intel had him trying to send sleeper agents into the United States. The name took on near-mythic proportions after 9/11, when bin Laden himself, in a video, praised Mukhtar as the mastermind of the attacks. Pointing to a position off-camera, bin Laden thanked him profusely. Even after the tape was recovered in the rubble in Afghanistan, the best forensic experts in Washington could find no trace of Mukhtar or his identity on it. When Soufan first saw that video, he thought to himself: “Who the hell is Mukhtar? We need to find him.”
Although Al Qaeda had been a high-priority intelligence target for half a dozen years, American knowledge of the organization was surprisingly sketchy. Most of the prior investigative efforts had been focused solely on Osama bin Laden and a few members of his inner circle, including second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and Saif al-Adel, a suspected operations chieftain. These men had been targets of an entire special unit within the CIA. But beyond them, U.S. understanding of Al Qaeda was riddled with holes. Who belonged? How many were they? Dozens, hundreds, thousands? And where the hell were they? What was the organization’s command structure? Who did its bidding? What were its ultimate intentions?
In ideal circumstances, Gaudin and Soufan would try to extract exactly this sort of information from Zubaydah; they would build a better understanding through patient, careful questioning. The situation at Udorn was far from ideal. They needed Zubaydah to tell them where and when the next attack was going to occur. The CIA continued to have doubts about Zubaydah’s identity. They took his fingerprints and pressed the FBI agents for further corroboration. Gaudin and Soufan were already certain. They recognized him from Bureau photographs. Zubaydah was bigger than they expected. He could have played tackle for a college football team, Gaudin thought. But there was no doubt in their minds it was he.
Zubaydah’s physical condition fluctuated a great deal during the first thirty-six hours at Udorn. At times, he seemed about to slip away. The doctors would rush in to resuscitate him, doing whatever they could to keep him alive. During one such effort Soufan and Gaudin stayed in the room while doctors worked to bring him back from the brink. By this point they had begun to establish a connection with Zubaydah. While the medical team worked on him, Soufan held ice cubes to his lips, murmuring to him in Arabic, trying to comfort him. Zubaydah, flat on his back, defecated all over the gurney and himself. Gaudin grabbed clean towels and wiped him clean. Don’t worry, they told him, these are good doctors and they are going to take care of you.
Shortly thereafter, Zubaydah was moved to a nearby hospital. Soufan and Gaudin went with him. On Zubaydah’s request, Gaudin stayed at his side and held his hand while their prized detainee went through a number of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests, which involve the patient being inserted into a large, claustrophobia-inducing cylinder. Zubaydah was scared. Gaudin reassured him. Once Zubaydah was stabilized again, the agents resumed their interrogation, testing his willingness to cooperate by asking him to identify photographs from Gaudin’s PDA. They told him that they would scroll through the photos and wanted Zubaydah to respond only when they showed him a photo of Saif al-Adel or Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, both of whom were wanted for their suspected roles in the African embassy bombings of 1998. If he was willing to talk about those men, they reasoned, he was probably willing to talk about anything.
Gaudin gave Soufan the PDA with what he thought was a photo of Abdullah, but he had accidentally called up a photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Zubaydah suddenly squeezed Gaudin’s arm. Gaudin became agitated, thinking Zubaydah was claiming that the photo of KSM was Abdullah. He stopped the session. He told Zubaydah to quit wasting his time. After all we’ve been through in the last two days, after all we have done for you, he said, don’t you dare lie to me.
Zubaydah replied: “No, I’m not lying to you. That’s Mukhtar.”
Soufan, standing out of line of vision of the photo, was puzzled. Gaudin, still aggravated, said: “I know exactly who this is. This is Ramzi’s uncle, the plot against the pope, the plot against the Philippine airline.” He rattled off a bunch of information on Mohammed from the Manila Air plot, then said, “I don’t want to talk about him. He’s not important to me. What’s important to me is this test, if you’re going to be truthful to me. I’m here to talk about Abdullah. Don’t talk to me about this guy anymore.”
They resumed the slide show, but Zubaydah interrupted again. “How did you know about Mukhtar?” he asked.
Gaudin finally realized then that Zubaydah must know KSM, which made no sense. Zubaydah was Al Qaeda; KSM was Abdul Basit’s uncle, a freelancer. He brought KSM’s photo back up on the PDA and told Zubaydah with feigned frustration, okay, say whatever it is you wanted to say about the man in the photograph.
“That’s Mukhtar,” Zubaydah said. “How did you know that Mukhtar was the mastermind of September eleventh?”
Gaudin was so stunned he nearly fainted. Zubaydah had asked how the Americans had known that KSM was one of the most wanted men on the planet, the mysterious Mukhtar. Of course, they had no idea, but Gaudin gamely told him they knew everything: “We told you we already know the answers. When we ask you questions, we already know the answer.”
He congratulated Zubaydah. “See, this is what we’re talking about, this is being honest with us. Thank you for being honest.” Gaudin was worried he wouldn’t be able to maintain his calm in front of Zubaydah any longer and, gathering his resolve, calmly told him he needed to take a bathroom break. He and Soufan went out of the room. Once outside, Gaudin could barely contain himself.
“That’s Frank’s guy,” he told Soufan, referring the Manila case agent, Pellegrino. “Frank’s guy is the mastermind of nine eleven.”
The pair were stunned. They didn’t quite understand how they had done it, but both knew they had uncovered a huge piece of information. They had to tell Pellegrino, their bosses, the world. Gaudin told the lead CIA agent at the site they needed to send cables immediately to their respective headquarters, telling them Zubaydah had produced the single most important piece of the September 11 puzzle to date—that Frank’s guy was the mastermind of 9/11.
The CIA man stared blankly at them and said, “Who the hell is Frank?”
The FBI and CIA—so often on parallel tracks that never converged—had been chasing Al Qaeda, the 9/11 plotters, KSM, and Mukhtar without the slightest hint that they were all connected.
When Gaudin finally reached Pellegrino in New York, he told him as best he was able over an unsecured international connection what had transpired. Pellegrino was speechless. The last name he wanted to hear in connection with 9/11 was KSM, Pellegrino said later. “You want to crawl under your desk. I would have preferred any other name in the world.”
When Soufan reached Kenny Maxwell, a supervisor on the counterterrorism squad in New York, and told him that “Frank’s guy” had planned 9/11, the supervisor’s immediate response was that it was another suspect in the Manila Air plot, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
No, Soufan said. KSM.
“Shit,” Maxwell said. “He’s not even Al Qaeda.”
It didn’t take long for it to dawn on the counterterrorism squad members—and, soon, others in the FBI, the CIA, and the White House—that the identity of the mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks in history had been right there in front of them all along.
The alert went out—aggressively, urgently, quietly. The very public hunt for bin Laden and company continued to dominate the headlines, and preoccupy the U.S. military. But the U.S. arsenal of tracking satellites was spun up and retasked toward a new target. The FBI and the CIA mobilized, and the entire weight of the U.S. war on terrorism was shifted toward an effort to find a man whose last known location was somewhere deep in the underworld of Karachi, Pakistan, enmeshed in a web of jihadis and the intelligence officers who protected them. It would soon become the largest secret manhunt in history, a guns-drawn chase through the streets of some of the world’s most dangerous places. But it would be nearly another year—a year full of attacks and plots in the U.S. and everywhere else—before KSM was finally run to ground.
Badawiya, the neighborhood where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed grew up, sat between the sand and the sea on the southernmost edge of Fahaheel, an oil boom town south of Kuwait City. The neighborhood mosque overlooked a mile-wide field of rubble and weeds, a buffer zone between the neighborhood and the great Shuaiba petrochemical complex and Persian Gulf port. The refinery flare stacks sputtered and glowed around the clock. Al-Ahmadi, headquarters of the Kuwait Oil Company, and the bountiful Burgan oil field—the foundations of modern Kuwait—were just a few miles to the west.
Before oil was discovered at Burgan in 1938, Fahaheel was little more than an obscure date palm oasis on the road to Saudi Arabia. Older Kuwaitis recall driving the route south from the capital through miles of blank sand, the occasional car, camel, or Bedouin tent the only sights along the way. Burgan Field was unusual for its vast volume—Kuwait is fifth in the world in known oil reserves, and fully half its production has come from this one place—and its ease of access. In places, the oil simply bubbled to the surface on its own.
Mohammed’s parents arrived from Pakistan on the leading edge of Kuwait’s boom years. His father, Sheikh Mohammed Ali Doustin Baluchi; his father’s brother, Ali Mohammed; and their young families came together in 1956. Both brothers were religious men and had been recruited to head mosques. Sheikh Mohammed became imam of a drab brown brick mosque in Al-Ahmadi, the administrative center of the Kuwaiti oil industry. The twin minarets of the mosque stood in stark contrast to the Kuwait Oil Company corporate reservation, which surrounded it. The reservation was designed and built by the British and had the look and well-ordered feel of a small military installation. The gridded, tree-lined streets, flower-bedded roundabouts, and white-fenced worker cottages seemed to have been dropped in whole from another, greener world.
Sheikh Mohammed and his wife, Halima, had four children when they arrived in Kuwait. Five more were born after; Khalid second to last. The families traveled on Pakistani passports, but this was as much a matter of convenience as identity. Both Sheikh Mohammed and Halima were ethnic Baluch, from a swath of hard, dry land across the Gulf of Oman from the Arabian peninsula. Baluchistan, as it is known, includes parts of contemporary Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but existed as an entity in its own right long before the boundaries of any of these modern states were drawn. Sheikh Mohammed and Halima were both born in Karachi, Pakistan’s burgeoning commercial capital, but grew up in Sarbaz in Iranian Baluchistan, a couple of hours from the current Pakistan border. Mohammed’s Pakistani passport was issued by the consulate in Basra, Iraq.
Baluchistan is one of the oldest inhabited places on earth and its history is one of fierce resistance to whatever would-be ruler was on hand at the moment. Next-door-neighbor Persia, the great power of the ancient world, was held at bay for a thousand years; Alexander the Great suffered his greatest defeat there, and the Arab rulers who swept over the region in the century after Muhammad’s death were told by their military strategists to forgo Baluchistan, for “if you send a small Army, it will be defeated, if you send a large Army, they will die of thirst and hunger.”
The oil money that drew Mohammed and his family didn’t merely enrich Kuwait; it transformed the country utterly. At its first formal census, in 1957, Kuwait had a population of 206,000. In slightly more than two decades, it had grown six times larger and has nearly doubled again since. The growth came almost entirely from abroad. Palestinians and Egyptians arrived by the hundreds of thousands and largely took over the businesses of bureaucracy, civil affairs, and education. Americans and Brits came, in smaller numbers, to run the new oil and banking enterprises. South Asians—Pakistanis and Indians, initially; Filipinos, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshis later—formed the workforce in the oil fields and refineries and, later, in a vibrant service economy.
The boom made native Kuwaitis among the wealthiest and most cosseted people on earth. Their traditional Bedouin birthright had been a share of their fathers’ camels; the post-boom Kuwaiti citizen enjoyed guaranteed state employment, or a stipend if he were jobless or privately employed; marriage bonuses; free mortgages, medical care, and education from childhood through university; and guaranteed income at retirement.
All this and more was available to every Kuwaiti citizen. The majority of residents, however, were not citizens and never would be. Most migrant workers and their offspring were deemed unqualified. This created a caste system dividing those with citizenship, the native-born Kuwaitis, from the guest workers, known locally as bidoon—those without. The Baluch, no matter how long they stayed, were among the bidoon. This was a fundamental fact of life for the family of Mohammed Ali Doustin. They knew they would never belong. They didn’t even know how long they would be allowed to stay. On occasion, the government would notify a family to pack up and leave as soon as possible. It didn’t have to be clear why.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was born on April 14, 1965. His father was already fifty-seven, and died just four years later. Khalid’s older brothers—Zahed, Aref, and Abed—directed his schooling. Education in the years of Khalid’s youth was serious business. Schoolboys wore white shirts and gray slacks, and the headmaster carried a bamboo cane to keep students in line. Khalid was much younger than his oldest siblings and had nieces and nephews his own age. He and his nephews all attended high school together at Fahaheel Secondary School, a three-story brick all-boys school that housed as many as twelve hundred students.
Mohammed, like his brothers, was an excellent student and technically inclined. He was also rebellious. He and one of his nephews, Abdul Basit Abdul Karim, once climbed the flagpole atop their elementary schoolhouse and tore down the Kuwaiti flag. The girls attended separate female-only schools and did not progress beyond secondary school. “Khalid excelled, especially at science,” said Sheikh Ahmed Dabbous, a family friend and teacher at the school, which, like Fahaheel, had a diverse student body—Kuwaitis, Palestinians, Egyptians, and the Baluchi contingent. There were strict separations among the students. Each group tended to stay with its own. State-sponsored sports clubs, for example, were formed for the exclusive membership of native Kuwaitis.
Most of the teachers at the public schools Mohammed attended were Palestinians, who flowed into the country following the 1967 war. They made up the largest group of expatriates in the years of Khalid’s childhood and adolescence. At one point there were an estimated 450,000 Palestinians in Kuwait, threatening to outnumber the natives. Hawalli, an area of Kuwait City, became known locally as the West Bank. A United Nations program established after the formation of Israel to help resettle Palestinians away from Palestine included an ambitious educational component; by some measures, Palestinians in the 1970s were among the best-educated populations in the world. As they did in other Arab countries, Palestinians in Kuwait predominated in the professional ranks of engineers, physicians, and teachers.
Kuwait became a center of Palestinian political activism. Yasser Arafat worked there as a civil engineer. Khalid Mishal, a founder of Hamas, was graduated from Kuwait University and taught school in Kuwait City. Most of the political energies of the exiled Palestinians were directed toward Palestine and the formation of an armed resistance there (Fatah, the movement for the national liberation of Palestine, was founded in Kuwait in 1959), but just by weight of numbers Palestinians became a significant, although largely veiled, presence in Kuwait’s nascent domestic politics.
Two epochal events roiled the Islamic world in 1979: Islamists overthrew the shah of Iran and instituted an Islamic republic; and the Soviet Union invaded Muslim Afghanistan and installed a puppet government. Muslim leaders worldwide, but especially in the Gulf, were eager to ally themselves with the call to jihad that followed the Soviet invasion. It provided an opportunity to show their commitment to Islamic action without much risk. But the Islamic revolt in Iran provoked a more complicated response. In Kuwait, Shiites made up about a third of the population, and they saw Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power as a model for Islamic reform at home. The government turned to local Sunni Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as a show of their own commitment to a more Islamic Kuwait.
The Brotherhood had begun in Egypt in the 1920s, lashing out at the iniquities of the modern world and calling for a return to a more literal interpretation of Islam. The Brotherhood spread throughout the Arab world, where it often formed the core of opposition to autocratic governments; its members frequently were treated as criminals.
The Kuwaiti government tolerated the Brotherhood, which by the 1980s was dominated locally by Palestinians, as a hedge against potential threats from nationalists on the left. The organization was, as in much of the Arab world, illegal, but nonetheless often stood candidates for elections. The ambivalence was common throughout the region; the risk embedded within it was that Islamists would not long be content to be used as a pawn against other government critics and would demand action of their own choosing.
Mohammed’s oldest brother, Zahed, became a student leader of the Brotherhood at Kuwait University. Another brother, Abed, attended religious universities in Kuwait, then Qatar. Mohammed followed Zahed’s lead and began attending desert camps of the Brotherhood when he was sixteen. The camps were organized as one part recreation and one part proselytization. Speakers came from abroad to spread the word. It was there in the camps that Mohammed first heard the call to jihad. One particularly fiery orator was an Egyptian-educated Pashtun, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who called the young men in the camp to come to Afghanistan to join the holy war against the occupying Soviets.
While much of the ruling elite worried about the persistence of rural, desert values in a modernizing, urbanizing culture, the Islamists were worried about the opposite—the secularization of the new Kuwait. Fewer and fewer families attended mosque regularly. The Brotherhood saw itself as a bulwark against this steady decline. It recruited members quietly, often approaching them covertly in times of personal turmoil or trouble. Its members kept close eyes on local mosques to see who might be newly susceptible to the renewal of a religious lifestyle.
Another key element of the Brotherhood’s ideology was a virulent anti-Semitism, which historically had not been a hallmark of Islamist thought. Sayyid Qutb, the Brotherhood’s founding theoretician, had preached a rigid, relentless campaign to blame the Jews for almost everything. That message was tailor-made for the crestfallen years that followed Israel’s repeated displays of military dominance over the Arabs. An earlier generation’s attempt to shape a secular, pan-Arab identity was swept away in the Jewish victories, and pious young men like Mohammed were particularly willing to embrace a vision of a religious future.
When Mohammed graduated high school, Zahed was teaching at a local technical school. Zahed had planned on graduate school in the United States, but the family decided only one boy could afford to go abroad—as bidoon, they did not qualify for the generous government scholarships provided to native Kuwaitis. The older brothers chose to send Khalid to the west for further schooling. Mohammed’s old high school teacher Dabbous said Mohammed had made clear for years his desire to go abroad: “From the beginning of his studies it’s science. He wanted to go to America for this reason. He wanted to become a doctor [PhD] there.” The brothers chose Khalid. They traded their future for his.
North Carolina, 1984
Traveling on a Pakistani passport, Mohammed arrived in the winter of 1984 in tiny, remote Murfreesboro, North Carolina, to attend Chowan College, a two-year school virtually unknown in the United States but advertised abroad by the Baptist missionaries it graduated. For Mohammed, it must have been like landing on Mars. There were dusky rivers meandering through dense pine forests, cotton fields, and tobacco patches. Not a sand dune in sight.
Mohammed told school administrators he had heard of the college from a friend in Kuwait. He applied to the school shortly after graduating from Fahaheel Secondary School in 1983. He listed his brother Zahed as his father on the enrollment forms. His bill—$2,245 for the spring semester—was paid in full on the day of his matriculation, January 10. Chowan had been founded in 1848 as a sort of finishing school for young Southern women. Later, under financial duress, it reduced its curriculum and became a two-year junior college. Its leafy setting in isolated Murfreesboro—population about two thousand, with no bars and a single pizza shop—ensured that everyone remained on the straight and narrow.
Chowan did not require the standard English proficiency exam then widely mandated for international students. Foreign enrollees often spent only a semester or two there, improved their English just enough, and transferred to four-year universities. Dominating the international contingent by the 1980s were Middle Eastern men, about fifty of whom were enrolled each year. Mohammed, although Pakistani by birth, spoke Arabic fluently and was integrated into the Arab contingent.
The Arab students were the butt of jokes and harassment in the anti-Muslim era that followed the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The local boys razzed them, calling them Abbie Dahbies, a play on Abu Dhabi.
Some American students found the foreigners impenetrable. “They seemed to be praying all the time,” said John Franklin Timberlake, a 1984 Chowan graduate who became a police officer in Murfreesboro. “Just chanting, like. We never understood a word of it. Sometimes we’d come home late on a weekend night, maybe after we’d had a few beers, and they’d still be praying.” The foreign students, regardless of religious affiliation or inclination, were required along with everyone else to attend a weekly Christian chapel service.
A group of the Middle Easterners lived in Parker Hall, a brick tower overlooking Lake Vann, a small pond on campus. They often cooked, ate, and prayed together. As was their custom, they left their shoes in the corridor, an apparently irresistible target for locals, who sometimes moved the shoes from the hallway to the lake. Other students occasionally propped big garbage pails filled with water against the doors of the “Abbie Dahbies,” then knocked and ran away. When the young men answered the door, water flooded the room.
Mohammed did well in the pre-engineering curriculum he took for the sole semester he was there. He left in the spring for North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, a historically black college on the Piedmont plain in the central part of the state. Unlike gentrified Chowan, A&T was located in a large, growing, fractious city and had an activist past. Jesse Jackson was a graduate, and on February 1, 1960, students at A&T staged the first Civil Rights–era lunch-counter sit-in at a downtown Woolworth. By the time Mohammed arrived, African Americans still made up the majority of students, but there were good-size blocs of white Southerners and Middle Easterners.
For most of the Middle Easterners, this was their initial exposure to Western life. They were excited to see the movies, hear the music they had dreamed of at home. Once they arrived, some were appalled at what they witnessed. Others were thrilled. Like college students almost everywhere, they loved the party life. The better-off among them drove their new Porsche roadsters and Mercedes coupes to and from campus. Like many other religious Muslims, Mohammed developed a dislike for the U.S. in his time here and a disdain for many of his fellow Muslims.
One of Mohammed’s nephews, Abdul Karim Abdul Karim (Abdul Basit’s brother), had left Kuwait the year before Mohammed and spent two semesters in Oklahoma. He transferred to A&T with Mohammed and majored in industrial engineering. Mohammed was in the mechanical engineering program. The men lived a couple of miles off campus in bland apartment complexes with names like the Yorktown and the Colonial. They shared cars and accumulated parking tickets in large numbers, one friend said. They seldom mingled outside their groups and tended to skip organized events. In the fall, when football dominated the Aggie social calendar, the foreign students arranged soccer matches in the park.
Some of the American students were resentful of the Middle Easterners, feeling they knew English well enough to do the work in lab classes but didn’t carry their fair share.
“It was the college life: we used to get together three, four times a week, watch the games, chat, drink, you know,” said Sami Zitawi, a Kuwaiti native who recalled large get-togethers on Friday, the Muslim holy day. “We used to go to the farmers, buy a lamb or a goat. Butcher it with a knife…. Every Friday night someone would have a big dinner: fifteen, twenty, twenty-five students.” The butchering, he said, was often comically inept. The men sometimes organized variety shows—skits and small plays in which Mohammed was an active participant.
While the Middle Eastern students seemed monolithic to the Americans, there were deep divisions within their ranks. “Basically, what you saw was a microsociety of our home,” said Mahmood Zubaid, a Kuwaiti architectural engineer. “Everybody fit in where they felt most comfortable…. There were Kuwaitis, Palestinians, Jordanians. About two hundred to three hundred people in total, but they tended to associate with just their own group…. We hung around only with Kuwaitis. The community we were in, out of the two hundred or three hundred, was actually only about twenty people.”
Even within the Kuwaiti group there were deep divisions in politics, culture, status (the native Kuwaitis were on full government scholarships, while the Palestinians and Baluch paid their own way), and especially religion. At the other extreme was a strong core of religious conservatives who tried to act as moral police.
The fun-loving Arabs called them the mullahs. Mohammed was a mullah. There was plenty at A&T for Mohammed and other true believers to be distressed about. Some of the Arab students, like many Americans, treated college life as one long, barely interrupted party. Some had fancy cars and pretty American girlfriends. They went to the clubs; they drank and smoked whatever was available. One Kuwaiti student so resented the efforts at moral policing he would place a bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch on his table whenever the mullahs came by. The party boys tried not to call attention to themselves, but the mullahs noticed. They monitored airports for the arrival of new students and tried to bring them to their side of the battle.
Arab governments monitored relations among their overseas students and would disperse students if they determined any kind of fundamentalist cell was forming. “We had a lot of our students coming back from the U.S. radicalized,” said one high-ranking Arab official. “I’m not talking about religious guys going to the U.S. and coming back as fundamentalists. I’m talking about cool guys,” he said.
Excerpted from The Hunt for KSM by McDermott, Terry Copyright © 2012 by McDermott, Terry. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Josh Meyer is the former chief terrorism reporter for The Los Angeles Times and has reported on international terrorism for more than a decade. His "Inside Al Qaeda" series was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and he has twice been part of teams that have won the Pulitzer Prize for their security reporting. Meyer is also a screenwriter and television producer, who co-created (with Michael Connelly), wrote and produced the network TV crime drama Level 9. He currently is on the faculty of the Medill School of Journalism, where he is director of education and outreach for the school's groundbreaking National Security Journalism Initiative based in Washington, D.C.
Terry McDermott is the author of Perfect Soldiers (HarperCollins, 2005), and 101 Theory Drive (Pantheon, 2010). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Wilson Quarterly, Columbia Journalism Review, the Los Angeles Times Magazine and Pacific Magazine. McDermott worked at eight newspapers for more than thirty years, most recently for ten years at The Los Angeles Times, where he was a national correspondent.
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I am still reading the book. I find it most interesting in the way our FBI is able to track down these very elusive terrorists. A lot of time, travel, and intelligent questioning of those people leads to some interesting answers. We must thank them all for what they are doing!!
very fascinating read. well documented. flows well. very easy to follow. could not put it down.