Khaled Shaikh Mohammed's Family Ties
analysis by Ahmar Mustikhan
as Osama bin Laden's third in command and the most important member of Al Qaeda captured to date, Khaled Shaikh Mohammed was arrested March 1 in the Pakistan city of Rawalpindi. Bush Administration officials were quick to claim this was a "landmark victory" in the fight against Al Qaeda, and claimed that Mohammed was caught just as he was trying to launch a "significant terror plot" on the U.S.
But while his capture is certainly a blow to Al Qaeda's operations, details about his past and his arrest present alarming possibilities that the Al Qaeda organization may have deeper roots than anyone suspects.
Mohammed was already committed to Islamic fundamentalism when he joined two of his three brothers in Peshawar during the 1980s. A Pakistan frontier town on the Afghanistan border, Peshawar was the conduit through which money and guns flowed into Afghanistan, and also drew radicals like Osama bin Laden and Mohammed's eldest brother, Zahed.
Of the four brothers, it was Zahed who had deep roots into the Islamist movement, as he had been a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned underground group that sought to turn all nations in the Middle East into Islamic states. In Peshawar, he was an important figure as the local director for an weathy Kuwait-financed jihadi organization. According to an excellent profile of Mohammed (LA Times/ Dec. 22, 2002), the brothers prayed, trained, and socialized with bin Laden and others who hated the Soviets for their occupation of Afghanistan, then later hated America for its role in defending Saudi Arabia in the Gulf War.
The third brother, Abed, died in a mysterious bomb blast in Peshawar in 1989, and Zahed disappeared, his whereabouts still officially unknown . Today, he may very well be part of the core group within Al Qaeda. But wherever he may be, Zahed's long-standing ties to Arab pocketbooks and the Islamist resistance makes it certain that he is a man with great power, if he still lives.
Western press has also overlooked another important relative of Mohammed's -- his nephew, Ramzi Yousef.
About the same age as Mohammed, Yousef was yet another family member in Peshawar to join the new jihad that was forming around Osama bin Laden. It was Yousef who made the first attack on the West, with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
It isn't yet known whether Mohammed had a hand in that attack, but he spent the next two years with Yousef in the Philippines and other parts of South Asia plotting new attacks against the West. Blueprints were later found of plans to hijack a dozen U.S. commercial airliners and turn them into suicide missiles -- an ominous foreshadowing of 9/11.
Yousef was found in 1995, and is now serving a 240 year sentence. But as he was captured in an Islamabad hotel, another hotel guest described the arrest to a reporter. According to the LA Times account, that man was registered under the name Khalid Shaikh, and authorities came to believe that it was Mohammed himself.
That Mohammed and nephew Yousef were staying at a nice hotel in Pakistan's capitol dispels the popular conception of fugitives hiding in caves or remote mountain villages. Like Yousef, Mohammed was apprehended in comfortable surroundings, just two miles from the official residence of Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf. (And, it may be worth noting, the posh neighborhood is home to many retired army generals.) But of most signifigance, it was the home of a leader of Pakistan's most important ultra-religious political party.
Mohammed was arrested at the home of a "nazima" (head of the radical party's women's section) for Jamaat e Islami, which seeks to turn Pakistan into an Islamic state, not unlike Afghanistan under the Taliban -- Jamaat e Islami believes in a bloody jihad to usher in Allah's rule over the world. The party made unprecedented gains in last year's elections, moving from the political fringe to becoming a key player in Pakistan's third largest political coalition, an alliance of ultra- right political parties.
Given the renowned strict discipline of the Jamaat e Islami organization, it is extremely likely that party high command knew that a leader was harboring such a notorious fugitive. But a spokesman for the group only told Associated Press that it was "not a sin to host ... guests, unless their crime is proven."
The Jamaat e Islami was regarded as a staunch U.S. ally in the Cold War days, as the CIA poured millions into supporting the religious groups fighting a jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But the former friends turned into foes after the rise of the Taliban, as groups like Jamaat e Islami sought to turn Pakistan into a similar state under the rule of sharia (Islamic law).
Born in Kuwait, Mohammed's parents were from Baluchistan, a province divided among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan's province of Baluchistan is a case study of how a region can be radicalized. In the southwest corner of the country bordering Afghanistan and Iran, the Baluch people aren't particularly religious, but want their own nation -- much like the Kurds, who are divided among artificial borders of Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. Many Baluch actually loathe Islam, which they view as an ideology that led to their political enslavement. To date there have been at least three armed uprisings against Pakistan, with tens of thousands of tribesmen killed.
But in the 1980s, the flood of petro- and U.S. dollars for the Afghan mujahadeen spread its corrupting influence into the Baluch society, with state-sponsored proliferation of Islamic seminaries along with the creation of sophisticated gun and drug smuggling routes.
"There is hardly any village in Baluchistan where there is no mosque or mosque school (madrassah) and most of these institutions are still financed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab reactionary regimes," says Dr. Sabir Badalkhan, a visiting professor of Islam and Popular Cultures of South Asia at the Ohio State University, Columbus.
Dr. Badalkhan, who also hails from Baluchistan, insists that penetration of the Islamists in his province had been minimal, limited to one or two pockets. Nevertheless, Jamaat e Islami's anti-American message had broad appeal in the October elections, and religious right parties now have a substantial voting bloc in the region.
Pakistan's successive military juntas have also nurtured close relationship with the religious extremists. The military and religious right share faith in the supremacy of Islam and a concern about "foreign threats" to their country. Fundamentalist sentiments particularly run high among middle-ranking army officers, such as majors and colonels.
While the country's president and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, plays to Western galleries as an ally in the war against Al Qaeda, he privately tries to appease the extremists within Pakistan. Another reason why the religious parties made significant gains in the recent elections, for example, was because there was a government ban against political rallies -- but religious gatherings were exempt.
Badalkhan points out that Pakistan had traditionally been a safe haven for Islamic terrorists around the world since it was the launchpad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. "Even today, [they are] fighting an open war against India in the name of Islam." The guerilla war in Kashmir -- now entering its 14th year -- serves Pakistan's interests, of course.
Badalkhan fears that Islamist parties may gain further clout as lines continue to blur between the country's powerful military and the fundamentalist political parties.
In the case of Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, it may be worth asking whether Jamaat e Islami and Pakistan's government knew more about his whereabouts than they are revealing -- and what else they still may be keeping secret about Al Qaeda.
That Mohammed was found in the upscale home of an important political figure should be greeted with shock. But another important angle has been almost totally ignored. Adil Qadus -- another member of the family that was hiding Mohammed -- was arrested the same day in a different city for suspected Al Qaeda ties. Adil Qadus is a Pakistani army colonel.
Perhaps instead of seeking bin Laden in remote caves, we should be sending the Marines to search the comfortable digs of Pakistan's elite.
March 5, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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