Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed willing to testify against Saudi Arabia or Qatar?
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently published a report suggesting the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks would be open to testifying against Saudi Arabia only if his death penalty would be reversed, citing court documents.
Al Arabiya English obtained the document in question – a status letter writing to US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn – which stated that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyer said his client would not consent to a deposition “at the present time.”
His lawyer is then directly quoted as saying that the main reason for his client’s refusal was the “capital nature of the prosecution” and that “[i]n the absence of a potential death sentence much broader cooperation would be possible.”
The status letter in question was filed on June 26 in the US Southern District Court of New York by lawyers representing individuals and businesses seeking billions of dollars in damages from Saudi Arabia, which they accuse of being involved in the 2001 attacks.
International media outlets and agencies quickly picked up the story when it was published last Tuesday, with many echoing WSJ’s lede that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also known by his abbreviated name KSM, was ready to testify against Saudi Arabia in exchange for the US dropping the death penalty against him.
Throughout the WSJ article, there are no direct quotes from Mohammed, the other co-defendant in the case Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (who also happens to be KSM’s nephew), or their counsels stating either party would be willing to testify against Saudi Arabia specifically.
James Kreindler, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Reuters that he did not know whether Mohammed might be useful in their case.
“We’re just really leaving no stone unturned,” he said.
Sanctuary in Qatar
However, many outlets failed to report the possibility Qatar might be another country KSM would testify against.
In 2017, Richard Clarke, a former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism during the Clinton and Bush administrations, revealed in a New York Daily News article that Qatar provided sanctuary to Mohammed and might have helped him escape to Doha when the US closed in on him during the 1990s.
Mohammed is a Pakistani national who grew up in Kuwait and studied in North Carolina as an undergraduate. In the years to come, he would be connected to two terrorist attacks – one on the World Trade Center in 1993 and another in Manila in 1995 – before he arrived in Doha, where he worked at Qatar’s Water Department.
“There was a consensus in the group that we could not trust the Qatar government sufficiently for us to do what otherwise would have been obvious: Ask the local security service to arrest him and hand him over,” Clarke wrote, referring to the inter-agency Counterterrorism Security Group, which he chaired.
“To mitigate the risk inherent in that move, the US ambassador was asked to talk only to the Emir. He would ask the Emir to talk only to the head of the Qatari security service. The request was that they should grab KSM and hold him for a few hours until we could land an arrest team to fly him to the US,” Clarke wrote.
However, hours after the US ambassador met with the Emir regarding Washington’s request, Mohammed had disappeared from Doha.
“Had the Qataris handed him over to us as requested in 1996, the world might have been a very different place,” Clarke concluded.
While the WSJ article, written by its Washington reporters Andrew Restuccia and Jess Bravin, failed to mention any connection between Qatar and Mohammed, another WSJ report on June 19 written by financial reporters Ian Talley and Bradley Hope did so. They reported how loopholes in UN Security Council sanctions allowed blacklisted al-Qaeda and ISIS members and their backers to access to their bank accounts despite an asset freeze by the UN.