Twenty years later, it is still there. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, has yet to be tried or convicted for his actions. “KSM” boasted to investigators of having imagined and organized the deadliest attacks in history. He has been languishing for fifteen years in a cell in the ultra-secure Guantanamo prison.
In this American base, located on the island of Cuba, the accused is waiting to know whether his confession will be admissible by the military tribunal supposed to judge him, or whether the numerous acts of torture he suffered by the CIA during his detention render these confessions inadmissible. He remains, after Osama bin Laden, the most hated figure linked to the attacks of September 11, 2001. A “killer” who stood out from other members of the jihadist group Al-Qaeda by his “deranged” projects, according to the former agent from FBI Ali Soufan.
A “terrorist entrepreneur”
Most people know the 56-year-old man by the photo taken of him the night he was captured in 2003, with tousled hair and bushy mustache, wearing white pajamas. Appearing before the Guantanamo Military Court for the first time in 18 months this week, KSM appeared emaciated, wearing a blue turban, displaying a long graying red beard.
A Pakistani raised in Kuwait, he allegedly suggested the idea of crashing planes to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1996. A graduate of an American university, he worked for the government of Qatar at the beginning of the 1990s when he started planning attacks with his nephew Ramzi Yousef, who detonated a bomb in the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.
Although he did not initially enlist in al-Qaida himself, the official 9/11 report called him a “terrorist entrepreneur,” who had motives and ideas for terrorist attacks. , but who did not have the funds and the organization to carry them out. “Highly educated and just as comfortable in a civil servant’s office as in a terrorist hideout, KSM used his imagination, his technical and interpersonal skills to design and organize an extraordinary array of terrorist projects,” the report explains.
Fake news under torture
Captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in March 2003, KSM was taken by the CIA to secret prisons in Poland for questioning. In particular, he was subjected to “waterboarding” 183 times in four weeks. It is the detainee who focused the attention of the entire intelligence agency and who, therefore, was tortured the most: beatings, wall technique, sleep deprivation, rectal rehydration sessions, painful positions. According to the Senate report, a significant amount of information gathered during these sessions turned out to be false.
But after his transfer to Guantanamo in September 2006, he proudly confessed before the military tribunal: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z”. He also said he was behind 30 other operations including attacks linked to Al-Qaeda in Bali and Kenya and the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. His lawyer David Nevin describes him as a brilliant man, with good strategies for defending himself in court. In 2017, KSM’s lawyers were in discussions for an agreement to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, the court was told a year later. This agreement never materialized.
In court this week, he appeared confident and unmoved, interacting vivaciously with his lawyers and greeting two reporters in the glassed-in gallery at the back of the court. His lawyers say he is most likely aware of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, hailed as a great victory by Al-Qaida.