Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (also known as Ashraf Refaat Nabith Henin, Khalid Adbul Wadood, Salem Ali, Abdul Majid, Abdullah al-Fak’asi al-Ghamdior, Fahd Bin Adballah Bin Khalid and 27 other aliases. He is also known colloquially as KSM), is the military head of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Mohammed has been described by the the 9/11 Commission Report as a “terrorist entrepreneur” who “followed a rather tortuous path to his eventual membership in al Qaeda. Highly educated and equally comfortable in a government office or a terrorist safehouse, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed applied his imagination, technical aptitude, and managerial skills to hatching and planning an extraordinary array of terrorist schemes. These ideas included conventional car bombing, political assassination, aircraft bombing, hijacking, reservoir poisoning, and, ultimately, the use of aircraft as missiles guided by suicide operatives.”
He also reportedly conspired to create the foiled Operation Bojinka (a plot for the virtually simultaneous in-flight bombings of 12 commercial airliners flying routes between Asia and the United States), the Bali nightclub bombings, the failed bombing of American Airlines Flight 63, the murder of Daniel Pearl, and other militant attacks.
Mohammed is purported to have been born in Kuwait. His date of birth has been variously reported as March 1, 1964 or April 14, 1965. Although much remains murky about Mohammed’s background, it appears that his parents may have come from Baluchistan, which is composed of large tracts of land in southwestern Pakistan, southern Iran, and Afghanistan. Baluchi tribesman have a fearsome reputation and in the past were employed by local sheiks as palace guards.
Mohammed’s parents were religious, and his father, Shaikh Mohammed Ali Doustin Baluchi, who died decades ago, has been described as an imam, or preacher. Mohammed’s mother, Halema, earned money by cleaning women’s bodies for burial. Mohammed is one of at least five siblings – four boys and a girl. The brothers’ names – Khalid (meaning man of eternal life); Zahed (pious); Abed (worshipper); and Aref (knowledgeable) – reflect the family’s religious orientation. What little is known about the sister includes one compelling piece of information: She is thought to be the mother of Abdul Karim Basit, better known as Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the man convicted of masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
In 1983, Mohammed began attending Chowan College, a small Baptist school in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. He later transferred to the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1986. The following year he went to Afghanistan and joined the fight against the Soviet Union during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After three months of combat, he sought a less perilous existence and secured employment at an electronics company. Then in 1992, he fought for some time in Bosnia. His next move was to Qatar, where he worked in a government office as a project engineer for the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water. He stayed at this job until 1996, all the while supporting terrorism covertly. He took many long vacations to help train and organize terrorists around the world. In 1996 he fled to Pakistan to avoid capture by U.S. authorities.
Despite having lived and studied in the United States (he claimed to have enjoyed his stay there), Mohammed became an anti-U.S. terrorist. He claims that this was brought about by his anger with American support for Israel. He played a small role in the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing. He became aware, in 1991 or 1992, that his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, was planning to launch a bombing attack inside the United States. Mohammed consulted with and advised Yousef by phone and received periodic progress reports from him. On November 3, 1992, he wire transferred $660 to Mohammed Salameh, Yousef’s co-conspirator, to help facilitate the bombing. After the bombing, Mohammed was placed under surveillance by U.S. intelligence. Inspired by the high status Yousef achieved in Islamic terrorist circles after the WTC attack, Mohammed decided to engage in anti-U.S. terrorist activities as well. In 1994 he traveled to the Philippines to work with Yousef on the aforementioned Operation Bojinka; this appears to have been the first time that Mohammed himself took part in the actual planning of a terrorist operation. In December 1994, Mohammed and Yousef attempted a practice run for Operation Bojinka. Under a seat of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, Yousef planted an explosive device that he had assembled in the lavatory of the plane during a stopover. Yousef disembarked and the plane took off again with a Japanese national now occupying Yousef’s seat. The subsequent explosion killed him and nearly brought down the aircraft. plane. The plan for Operation Bojinka was discovered on January 6, 1995.
Mohammed, who seemed to have found his calling as a terrorist, was now simultaneously plotting multiple acts of murder, including the assasination of Pope John Paul II and a failed plot to assassinate President Clinton during his 1994 trip to Manilla. Yousef, however, was captured February 7 of that same year after a fire caused by his bomb-making materials raised the suspicions of Phillipine authorities. By the time the Operation Bojinka plot was discovered, Mohammed was already safe in Qatar, back at his job at the Ministry of Electricity and Water. Throughout 1995 he traveled extensively to Sudan, Yemen, Malaysia, and Brazil, making contacts with local terrorists. In Sudan he attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet with Osama bin Laden, whom he had first encountered in Afghanistan in 1987. Bin Laden was at that time a guest of Sudanese political leader Hassan al Turabi, but would soon be pressured to leave. In 1996 Mohammad was secretly indicted by the Southern District of the state of New York for his involvement in Operation Bojinka. A request was received by the Qatari Government from the United States to arrest Mohammed but he had already fled to Afghanistan. There he was able to meet with bin Laden (who had since left Sudan), and the two developed a working relationship. According to Mohammed, this was the first time the two had seen each other since 1989.
Conveniently, Mohammed and bin Laden were both transferring their terrorist operations to Afghanistan at approximately the same time. Abu Hafs al-Masri (Mohammed Atef), bin Laden’s chief of operations, arranged a meeting between bin Laden and Mohammed in Tora Bora sometime in mid-1996. At this meeting, Mohammed outlined a plan that would eventually become the quadruple hijackings of September 11, 2001. Bin Laden urged Mohammed to become a full-fledged member of al Qaeda, which he did in 1999. Mohammed initially resisted joining because he needed to be sure that bin Laden was really committed to terrorist attacks against the United States. But bin Laden’s attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam convinced Mohammed that bin Laden was as committed to destroying the United States as he was.
In 1997, Mohammed attempted without success to join mujahid leader Ibn al Khattab in Chechnya. Unable to enter that country, he returned to Afghanistan, where he became increasingly involved with al Qaeda. At bin Laden’s invitation, he moved to Kandahar, where he joined al Qaeda as a full member. He became the leader of al Qaeda’s media committee and worked on plans for more attacks in Asia and Israel. Other family members were also recruited, including Mohammed’s cousin, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, who was one of the major financers of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed himself is also a suspect in the Tunisian synagogue bombing.
Although he hid behind a mask of religiosity, Khaled Sheikh Mohammad lived a less than religious lifestyle. While in the Philippines he frequently attended parties where large amounts of alcohol were served, and spent enormous sums of money on women. He often went to go-go bars and karaoke clubs and hosted parties at expensive hotels where he tipped lavishly. He once flew low over a tower with a rented helicopter to impress a girlfriend, calling her from his cell phone while buzzing the tower and waving with childish delight.
Mohammed frequently wore a white tuxedo and paid for extravagant dinners with cash. He traveled all over the world on false passports, and barely escaped capture by U.S. authorities on numerous occasions. All the while, he plotted and carried out many atrocities, including the bombing of the synagogue in Tunisia; there is also evidence that he may have had a hand in the Bali, Indonesia bombing that killed over 200 people. His luck was soon to run out, however. On March 1, 2003, Pakistani authorities, acting on a tip from U.S. intelligence, arrested a disoriented and disheveled Mohammed in a surprise raid on his apartment, pulling him out of bed.
In March 2007, the media reported that Mohammed had confessed to a U.S. military tribunal that he had planned 28 terrorist attacks and supported 3 others. “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” said Mohammed. He also detailed al Qaeda’s links to the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing. He admitted to having planned the 2002 bombing of a Kenya beach resort frequented by Israelis and the failed missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. He also said he was responsible for the deadly 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. He confessed to the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Other plots (that never materialized) for which he claimed responsibility included the assassinations of Pope John Paul II, Bill Clinton, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf; attacks on the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the New York Stock Exchange, the Panama Canal, and Big Ben and Heathrow Airport in London.
On November 13, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his Justice Department would try Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees with alleged ties to the 9/11 conspiracy, in a New York City civilian court. The other co-defendants were Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. Holder’s announcement elicited great public disapproval, however. On April 4, 2011, the Attorney General announced that that Mohammed and the four others would be tried in a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.