Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) (1965?-) was the operational chief of the 9-11 attack and many other worldwide terrorist plans and actions worldwide, ranking third or fourth in al-Qaeda. He was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on 1 March 2003, is a U.S. High Value Detainee at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and has been charged with leadership of the 9-11 attack in a set of charges dated April 15, 2008. On December 8, 2008, he and four codefendants offered to plead guilty, but did not continue when he was told he could not be executed without a jury trial; he had indicated he wanted to be a martyr. [1] A civilian trial, U.S. v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al., is now planned; the Obama Administration had planned to hold it .in New York City but is moving back from that decision. There is still substantial political pressure to move it into a military tribunal, and equally hard argument to keep it in the Federal court system.

Osama bin Laden called him al Mukhtar ("the Brain"), [2] but often considered him too ambitious in his planning; bin Laden was reported as needing to be convinced the 9-11 attack was feasible. [3]

According to his statement at his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), he considers himself a soldier in a religious war:

I consider myself, for what you are doing, a religious thing as you consider us fundamentalists. So, we derive from religious leading that we consider we and George Washington doing same thing. As consider George Washington as hero. Muslims many of them are considering Usama bin Laden as doing same thing. He is just fighting. He needs his independence. Even we think that, or not me only...Because if I was in the first Jihad time Russia. So I have to be Russian enemy. But America supported me in this because I'm their alliances when I was fighting Russia. Same job I'm doing. I'm fighting. I was fighting there Russia now I'm fighting America.[4]


He was born in 1964 or 1965, in Kuwait into a family originally from the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan. Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in 1997 of bombing the World Trade Center four years earlier, is his nephew. [5] KSM fought in the Afghanistan War (1978-92) between 1980 and 1989. He is married; when he was captured, a photograph of him holding his two sons was next to the bed. [6]

He graduated in 1986 from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the US,with a degree in mechanical engineering, and speaks Arabic, English, Urdu and Baluchi.

In the late 1980s he moved to Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar, where he became acquainted with Bin Laden. He was reported to have been active in the Muslim Brotherhood, certainly by 1986. He may first have met bin Laden in Peshawar, but did not then ally with him, and went to Southeast Asia after the Soviets left Afghanistan. [3]


Airliner attacks

KSM was involved in attacks using airliners before and after 9/11.

Operation BOJINKA

Before KSM was fully associated with al-Qaeda, he was involved in a Pacific operation was called Operation Bojinka, planned for 1996 but discovered in 1995, when the apartment he and his nephew Ramzi Yousef were using to make bombs, in the Philippines, caught fire. [7] Yousef was later convicted for leading the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

His involvement put him on FBI and CIA watchlists. In January 1996, a U.S. grand jury in New York City issued a sealed indictment. The indictment has no legal bearing right now, U.S. government officials said; the priority is to interrogate him. [7]

The CIA located him in Qatar in 1996, and were asked by the White House if they could arrest him and bring him to trial. They replied that they did not have the assets to do so, and the Qatari minister of religious endowments, Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid al-Tahni, was known to be in sympathy with bin-Laden and would give an alert if there were an attempt to extradite KSM. A military special operations action was then considered, involving establishing a base in Bahrain, from which a helicopter capture force could be sent into Qatar. While it was discussed under Deputy National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, the scale was judged too large for arresting a single terrorist. There was already friction between Qatar and Bahrain, and Qatar might interpret this as an invasion from Bahrain. Also, the Air Force was negotiating to establish a key base in Qatar. [8]

Airline attack plans with al-Qaeda

Between 1996 and 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, and Mohammed Atef, the military commander of al Qaeda), proposed and discussed potential targets for attack by hijacked commercial airliners and decided to target economic, political, and military buildings in the United States and Western Pacific. In or about 1999, he requested and received funding, from al-Qaeda, for his idea of hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings., the "Planes Operation". [9]

KSM, bin Laden and Mohammed Atef developed an operational concept of attacks on airliners, using bombs in the Western Pacific and hijacked airlines against targets in the U.S. The U.S. part was known as the "Planes Operation", and, in planning, consisted of initial attacks on the East Coast (i.e., the 9-11 attack) and a followup attack on the West Coast. It was eventually approved by bin Laden between November 1999 and February 2000.

KSM, in Karachi, Pakistan, was joined, in November 1999, by Khallad, Nawafal Hazmi . He taught them English commands needed for hijacking, and provided them with study materials on flying. He then funded Hazmi and al Midhar (a member of the American Airlines flight 77 team to travel to the U.S. to prepare the "Planes Operation."

In December 1999, he sent Khallad on a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in order to assess airline security, collect information regarding air carriers for flights in Southeast Asia, and facilitate onward travel for Nawafal Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar from Kuala Lumpur to the United States. Khallad, on his return, briefed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atef on his observations on airline security, including the ability to smuggle a razor knife (i.e., "box cutter").

In or about January 2000, Osama bin Laden chose Ramzi Binalshibh, Mohammed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah to participate in the "Planes Operation" in the United States. When Ramzi Binalshibh was unable to obtain a visa to travel to the United States, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed named Binalshibh as his main assistant in the "Planes Operation" due to his knowledge of the details of the plot. Atta was selected as the "emir" of the group and Nawafal Hazmi was selected as Atta's "deputy." Atta was given full authority to make operational decisions in the United States.

Between in or about September 2000 and in or about July 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed instructed the non-pilot hijackers to travel to their home countries to obtain "clean" passports (a passport not reflecting travel to Pakistan or Afghanistan), visas from other Western countries, and visas to the United States, then return to Pakistan. Following the hijackers' return to Pakistan, he sent them to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to await final travel to the United States.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed personally trained the hijackers and informed them that they were going on a "martyrdom operation" involving airplanes, but at the time of their training they were not made aware of the specific targets. He and others trained the non-pilot hijackers by providing instructions on how to pack their bags to best secrete knives onto a plane, and on how to slit passengers' throats by making the hijackers practice on sheep, goats, and camels in preparation for the "Planes Operation."

In June 2001, the CIA reported that bin Laden was planning a major attack on the U.S., and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was recruiting for it, although the nature of the attack was unknown. [10]


Al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna said Mohammed ordered the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. "Daniel Pearl was going in search of the al Qaeda network that was operational in Karachi, and it was at the instruction of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that Daniel Pearl was killed." [7] Reports conflict if he actually killed Pearl; he claimed responsibility at his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT).

East Africa

He was linked to Tawfiq Attash, who planned the [1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa]] and USS Cole bombing, by the two using the same telephone number in Karachi.[11]

North America

In 2000, he sent a young British Muslim, Dhiren Barot, to the US to do reconnaissance on several targets in the United States. including the World Bank, in Washington, and the New York Stock Exchange.[3]


KSM, at his CSRT, claimed he had planned attacks in London.[4] With the changed security environment following 9/11, KSM sent Barot to London, where Barot prepared two plans sent for KSM's approval: using stretch limousines packed with propane gas cylinders as massive car bombs and building a dirty bomb to cause mass panic on the streets of the city. [3]


While there has been no definitive tie between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and either al-Qaeda or KSM, Laurie Mylroie of the Wall Street Journal pointed out that he is a Baluchi, a member of a group with Iraqi intelligence, based on joint opposition to the Shiite regime in Tehran. She mentions that the key documents about KSM, Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakam Murad, all involved in Operation Bojinka, were based on Kuwaiti documents to which the Iraqis had access during the occupation, and mentions Baluch terrorists had attacked the U.S. long before al Qaeda. [12]

Arguing against connections, [13] Abu Zubaydeh and KSM both said bin-Laden did not want to have an obligation to Saddam Hussein.

North Africa

The French magistrate Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with a suicide bomb attack on a synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba in 2002. [7] France is now is trying him in absentia for [14] for recruiting , suicide bomber Nizar Nouar, who called him before driving a truck bomb into the synagogue. France claims jurisdiction because French nationals were killed.

Southeast Asia

As mentioned, he was involved in a Philippines-based plot against aircraft. He attended a January 2000 planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur,and worked very closely with Hambali, the leader of Jemaah Islamiya (JI), and sending a liaison agent, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah to JI in September 2001.[11] Australia wants him regarding the their investigation into the Bali bombing in 2002 in which 202 people died, [5] for which he claimed responsibility in his CSRT.

Capture and captivity

Mohammed, who held a Pakistani passport, was almost caught in March 2003, in Quetta, Pakistan. They captured one senior al-Qaeda person, probably Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi. They captured suspect to track Mohammed to a house in the middle-class suburb of Rawalpindi, nine miles southeast of Islamabad and home of Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, a member of Pakistan's largest religious political party, Jamaat Islami.[7]

According to a Washington Post article, KSM was waterboarded 183 times starting in March 2003. [15]

Legal proceedings

So far, proceeding against him have been before military commissions under the Military Commission Act of 2006.

Combatant Status Review Tribunal

He had a Combatant Status Review Tribunal on March 10, 2007. He told the tribunal that he had been tortured by the CIA, but not in Guantanamo. National Public Radio cited the 9/11 Commission's belief that he had a large ego, seeing himself as a super-terrorist, and might take credit for things he had actually not done. [16] In his statement, he described his organizational roles in al-Qaeda to include:[4]

  • Member of the Council
  • Military Operational Commander for all al-Qaeda foreign operations
  • Media Operations Director for al-Sahab, "the Clouds", under the direction of Ayman al-Zawahiri
  • Head of the cell for biological and "dirty bomb" operations against the U.S., taking it over after the death of Sheikh Abu Hafs Al-Masri Subhi Abu Sittah (aka Muhammed Atef
  • Emmir of Beit al Shuhada {"the Martyr's House"), in Kandahar, for the 9/11 Operation

He said, in this statement, that he had sworn bayat to bin Laden, which other accounts described him as reluctant to do.

He claimed responsibility, not necessarily under al-Qaeda, for:

  1. 1993 World Trade Center bombing
  2. 9-11 attack
  3. Personally decapitating Daniel Pearl, which was shared by mujahideen in Pakistan, not al-Qaeda
  4. (failed) Shoe bomber operations
  5. Filka Island operation in Kuwait
  6. Bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia
  7. Bombing of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, used by travelers on the Israeli airline
  8. Firing a SA-7 surface-to-air missile against an Israeli airliner leaving Mombasa

He agreed to involvement in planning and training for:

  1. "Second Wave": attacks against the Library Tower in Los Angeles, Sears Tower in Chicago, Empire State Building in New York City and Plaza Bank in Washington State
  2. Attacks against the Panama Canal
  3. Bombing of suspension bridges in New York City
  4. Attacks on U.S. military vessels and oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Gibraltar and port of Singapore
  5. Bombing of British targets including Heathrow Airport, Big Ben and the Canary Wharf Building
  6. Destruction of the New York Stock Exchange
  7. Airplane attacks against Eilat, Israel
  8. Destruction of U.S. embassies in Australia, Indonesia and Japan
  9. Assassination of former U.S. presidents, including Jimmy Carter
  10. Mission against NATO headquarters
  11. Attacks against American targets in South Korea
  12. Financing attacks against American, British and Jewish targets in Turkey
  13. Destruction of Israeli embassies in Australia, Azerbaijan, India and the Philippines
  14. Attacks on civilian nuclear power plants in the U.S.
  15. Assassination attempt against President Bill Clinton in the Philippines

KSM agreed to sharing responsibility in:

  1. Assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in the Philippines
  2. Attempted assassination of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf
  3. Attempt to destroy an American oil company owned by Henry Kissinger in Sumatra, Indonesia


A military tribunal, convened under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, charged him and codefendants, on April 15, 2008 with:

  1. Conspiracy to conduct the 9-11 attack (10 USC 950v(b)(28))
  2. Attacking civilians, (10 USC 950v(b)(2))
  3. Attacking civilian objects, (10 USC 950v(b)(3))
  4. Intentionally causing serious bodily injury, (10 USC 950v(b)(13))
  5. Murder in violation of the law of war, (10 USC 950v(b)(15))
  6. Destruction of property in violation of the law of war, (10 USC 950v(b)(16))
  7. Hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft, (10 USC 950v(b)(23))
  8. Terrorism (10 USC 950v(b)(24))
  9. Providing material support to terrorism (10 USC 950v(b)(25))

Response to the charges

As mentioned, on December 8, 2008, he and four codefendants offered to plead guilty, but withdrew the plea after being told they might not receive the death sentence without a jury trial. KSM specifically spoke of wanting to be a martyr. [1]

Representing the "9/11 shura council", he responded in March 2009, based on the assumption they were soldiers in a war: [17]

  • 1. "This is a very laughable accusation. Were you expecting us to inform you about our secret attack plans? ... Blame yourselves and your failed intelligence apparatus, not us.
  • 2-4. The statement argued that the U.S. had initiated attacks in Palestine and Lebanon, cited the first Gulf War, and said "you are the last nation that has the right to speak about civilians and killing civilians
  • 5-6: Again, they countercharged that the U.S. violated the laws of war, and claimed they were fighting in defense under religious justification.
  • 7: They asked what is more dangerous, "hijacking and/or endangering a vessel or an aircraft, or endangering an entire population with a military occupation...if you do not respect the innocent in our countries, then we will do the same, by exposing you to danger in the air, at sea, and land."
  • 8: Charging "America is the terrorist country number one in the world," speaking of its military deployments and its support of Israel...we do not possess your military might, nor your nuclear, if our act of Jihad and our fighting with you caused fear and terror, than may thanks to God, because it is him that his thrown fear into your hearts, which resulted in your infidelity, paganism, and your statement that God had a son and your trinity beliefs."
  • 9: Again, they charged America with terrorism and said "we are defending our rights, land, religion and our oppressed Muslim brethren around the world. Therefore, we would spend all our money and properties for this cause."


  1. 1.0 1.1 Peter Finn (December 9, 2008), "Five 9/11 Suspects Offer to Confess But Proposal Is Pulled Over Death Penalty Issue", Washington Post
  2. Bruce Hoffmann (2006), Inside Terrorism, Columbia University Press, ISBN 023112999, p. 83
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Profile: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed", Times Online, March 15, 2007
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Verbatim Transcript of Combatant Status Review Tribunal for ISN 10024 (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), U.S. Department of Defense, March 10, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Profile: Al-Qaeda 'kingpin'", BBC News
  6. Hoffmann, p. 83
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: life of terror", CNN, September 23, 2003
  8. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Afghan Invasion to September 10, 2001, Penguin, 2004, pp. 326-327}}
  9. Office of Military Commissions (May 8, 2008), Referred Charges
  10. Coll, p. 561
  11. 11.0 11.1 Rafael Epstein (March 3, 2003), "Al-Qaeda arrest prompts cheers in US", ABC Radio, Australia, The World Today Archive
  12. Laurie Mylroie (March 18, 2003), "The Baluch Connection: Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tied to Baghdad?", Wall Street Journal
  13. Andrew Buncombe (10 June 2003), "Al-Qa'ida suspects deny links with Saddam", Guardian (U.K.)
  14. "Tunisian bomb attack trial opens", BBC, 5 January 2009
  15. R. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Finn (April 23, 2009), "Harsh Methods Approved as Early as Summer 2002: Holder Declassifies Timeline of Actions by Top Bush Administration Officials Regarding Interrogation", Washington Post Staff Writers
  16. Steve Inskeep and Jackie Northam (March 15, 2007), Mohammed Confession Leaves Room for Skepticism, National Public Radio
  17. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed et al. (March 5, 2009), The Islamic Response to the Government’s Nine Accusations