RealNews

Qaeda Aide Slipped Away Long Before Sept. 11 Attack

President Bush has hailed the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as a watershed event in the war against terrorism. Yet, the United States actually came tantalizingly close to catching Mr. Mohammed seven years ago, after his involvement in a botched terror operation in the Philippines, but long before he planned and executed Al Qaeda’s deadly plot to attack the World Trade Center and government targets in Washington. An investigation into the long manhunt for Mr. Mohammed, based on interviews with officials in Washington and the Persian Gulf, reveals evidence that as the Federal Bureau of Investigation closed in on him in early 1996, top government officials in Qatar — now an important American ally in any military action against Iraq — tipped him off and enabled him to escape. Today, many American officials believe that when Mr. Mohammed eluded their grasp in Qatar, they missed their best opportunity to prevent the Sept. 11 strikes on New York and Washington. But Qatar never paid a significant diplomatic price for its support of Mr. Mohammed. About the only rebuke it received was a private one in the form of a stinging letter from Louis Freeh, then the F.B.I. director, to Qatar’s foreign minister. “I have received disturbing information suggesting that Mohammed has again escaped the surveillance of your Security Services and that he appears to be aware of F.B.I. interest in him,” Mr. Freeh wrote. “A failure to apprehend Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would allow him and other associates to continue to conduct terrorist operations.” Full Story

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