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2003-03-12

Did Pakistani Intelligence Officials Fake the Arrest of Alleged Qaeda Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?: Foreign Journalists in Pakistan Begin to Question Pakistani Intelligence Officials

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Foreign journalists are accusing Pakistan’s intelligence service of faking the arrest of alleged Qaeda lieutenant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Pakistani agents announced they arrested Mohammed several days ago in the city of Rawalpindi; the White House claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks.

But journalists have begun to question whether the arrest was real.

On Monday, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) held an unprecedented news conference to try to quell the questions. Officials played a grainy video they claimed showed the arrest.

But according to Reuters, few journalists were convinced. The video never showed Mohammed’s face nor any sign of a struggle. Many said it looked like a crude reconstruction.

On Tuesday, former ISI chief Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul told Reuters he believes Mohammed was actually arrested some time ago in a different city.

Another intelligence source said Mohammed had been arrested three days before, from the Tench Batta suburb of Rawalpindi. Rumors of Mohammed’s arrest had circulated in Pakistan for months, but were consistently denied.

Gul said news of the arrest appeared to have been leaked at a critical time, just as Pakistan was facing huge U.S. pressure to support a U.N. Security Council vote authorizing war on Iraq.

Gul said the raid was conducted much too casually to have been real. Police didn’t even properly surround or secure the house.

Some are accusing Pakistan of staging the raid to give it leeway to abstain in a U.N. vote on an Iraq war. The Pakistani government is under massive domestic pressure to oppose war on Iraq. On Monday night, a senior ruling party official shocked British and American diplomats in Islamabad when he told Reuters the government had decided to abstain in the vote.

Pakistan wasn’t the only country to benefit from Mohammed’s very publicized 'arrest.' The Bush administration also had something to gain. On the Monday after the raid, the Wall Street Journal,/I>’s top editorial headlined, "Al Qaeda on the Run: Who says the war on terror isn’t going well?" That Thursday, President Bush opened a highly unusual press conference with an announcement on the arrest.

The Reuters article appeared yesterday. Today, it looks as though not one major Western paper has picked up the story.

We’re joined right now on the telephone from Islamabad by the Reuters Bureau Chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Simon Denyer.

  • Simon Denyer,/B>, Reuters Bureau Chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan. He wrote a story published yesterday called "Pakistan Accused of Staging Bin Laden Aide Arrest". He was one of the journalists present at the unprecedented press conference held by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)) on Monday.
  • President George W. Bush,/B>, speaking at a March 6th "press conference."

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