After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there was one man the American public wanted captured: Osama bin Laden. There was also a secret hunt going on for someone else, the real mastermind of the attacks.
That man was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and he's the focus of Josh Meyer and Terry McDermott's new book, The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."
"If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been taken off the battlefield or captured when the authorities had a chance to do that in the mid-'90s, there simply would not have been a 9/11 attack," Meyer tells guest host of weekends on All Things Considered Laura Sullivan.
This week, the Department of Defense filed charges against Mohammed, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2006. The DOD accuses him of being responsible for the killing of 2,970 people.
Bullied In America
Meyer describes Mohammed as a complicated individual, as someone who is "incredibly charismatic and extremely intelligent."
"He's able to meet people and get them to do things like blow themselves up for the cause within a matter of days or weeks," Meyer says.
Mohammed attended college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. His experience there, Meyer says, was extremely unpleasant.
"He encountered pretty serious discrimination," Meyer says. "There were guys at the college who liked to put like a pail of water on the door so that when they opened it, it spilled into the room."
Meyer says it wasn't just the practical jokes that bothered Mohammed and left him with negative feelings toward America. Meyer says he was fixated on what he saw as problems in American foreign policy.
"He was more political than Osama and these other guys," Meyer says.
The Secret Manhunt
Although there was a small group of people tracking Mohammed from 1993 well into 2003, Meyer says, "the big problem was they didn't connect him to al-Qaida until 2002."
Once they connected him to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Meyer says, "it was a complete panic moment" that initiated an all-out manhunt for him, but in secret.
"While bin Laden was in the headlines every day and there were military people looking for him and bombing Afghanistan, the hunt for KSM was a guns-drawn chase through the streets in places like Karachi by law enforcement," Meyer says. "It was kept in secret for many months."
Why the secrecy? "They say it was because they wanted to have the element of surprise to catch him, but they didn't catch him," Meyer says — at least not for almost a decade.
The conflicting roles of the FBI and CIA made it difficult to enact a coordinated and successful hunt for Mohammed, Meyer says.
"The CIA and FBI essentially have competing agendas. One is to gather intelligence and prevent future attacks, the other is to gather evidence to be presented in a court of law and make criminal cases against people," Meyer says. "Those two just don't mix."
His Own Hero
Mohammed was finally captured in Pakistan in 2003.
"In the end, even though this was the most dramatic law enforcement manhunt in — probably in history, spanning 18 months even after 9/11 — KSM was captured in his sleep," Meyer says.
Mohammed has allegedly confessed to planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other events. Meyer says he is very open about his grievances with the United States.
"He thinks of himself as the equivalent of George Washington, the commanding general of an insurgent army fighting the British. I mean he really believes he is the good guy in all of this, and that he's fighting a war to protect Muslims from a U.S. government that he believes is propping up corrupt dictators in the world and launching wars that kill innocent people."