Big reward helps flush out al-Qaida network

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2003

Pakistani authorities have apprehended more than 400 al-Qaida suspects since Sept. 11, 2001. Among them was an obscure Egyptian radical, described as an al-Qaida foot soldier, who surrendered during a raid last month.

When interrogators reminded the man that there was a $25 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who masterminded the attacks on America, he apparently said he could help. However, he demanded not just the reward but also his freedom and $2 million in moving expenses so he could settle down in England.

Negotiators agreed, he told them where they could find Mohammed and he apparently was sent on his way, family in tow, with $27 million in his pockets.

Osama bin Laden lost his most valuable co-conspirator -- and Mohammed's captured computer and papers contained information that apparently is further tightening the noose on al-Qaida. Also, authorities believe some of that information may lead soon to the apprehension of bin Laden himself.

As this is written, troops are searching a small area of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where the new information indicates bin Laden has been hiding. That area also is being saturated with wanted posters and leaflets offering a $25 million reward for his capture.

If a low-level al-Qaida operative knew where to find Mohammed, and was willing to sell him out, how safe is bin Laden? That question must be gnawing on his mind constantly -- especially as he watches his pal Saddam Hussein being escorted out of office.

-- Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

March 22

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