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Fake Arrest of Terrorist? Story Won't Go Away

Some Pakistan intelligence agents still insist that al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wasn't arrested in March because he was actually killed in a raid in September, 2002. The Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) held a news conference to show journalists evidence of the March 1st raid, but the grainy video, which did not show Mohammed's face or any signs of struggle, wasn't convincing, and some say it looks like a crude reconstruction. Meanwhile, a former ISI chief continues to insist that the terrorist was arrested in September in a different city.

"They are trying to cover up," says Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul. "I believe he was arrested before, probably in Karachi." He says news of the March 1st arrest was leaked at a critical time, just as Pakistan was facing huge U.S. pressure to support a UN Security Council vote on the war in Iraq. Pakistan decided to abstain from voting, to the surprise of the U.S. and Britain. Gul says the raid may have been staged in order to give Pakistan an excuse to abstain, since they may fear reprisals from al-Qaeda terrorists hiding out in their country.

Gul, who ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, says the raid was conducted in too casual a way to have been real, with police failing to surround or secure the house in a middle-class suburb. Relatives of Ahmed Quddus, the son of the house owner, say he was the only man in the house at the time of the raid. He?s now in jail, and his lawyers say his trial could start this month on charges of possessing weapons, resisting arrest and terrorism.

Neighbors say they heard no sound of gunfire, although the official report says Mohammed shot one intelligence agent in the foot with an AK-47 rifle. News of the raid was leaked to the press within hours, which Gul also finds incredible. "He has to be questioned, before you present him to the public eye," he says. "You don't present news like that."

In the video, an ISI officer is seen briefing half a dozen agents about the impending raid?in English, instead of in Urdu. Officials say this is a reconstruction of the original Urdu briefing, but said the rest of the video is genuine. But many journalists remained unconvinced as they saw a calm cameraman shine his lights on the raiding party and follow agents as they casually broke into the compound and the house, walking up the stairs. There was no sign of a struggle, or even of any urgency. The cameraman then focused on the back and neck of the man officials said was Mohammed, before his head was quickly covered by a hood. The video has not been released to the media for broadcast.

Mohammed has been identified by the U.S. as the mastermind of the 911 attacks. The ISI says the man who financed the attacks, Saudi national Ahmed al-Hawsawi, was also arrested in the same raid. But a Pakistani source says al-Hawsawi was picked up at least a month earlier.

Quddus, who was arrested in the raid and remains in jail, is the son of an official in the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a religious alliance that opposes the military-backed government of Pakistan and has organized protests against the war in Iraq. "Jamaat has never had any contacts with the Arabs (al-Qaeda)," says Gul. "They are at loggerheads with U.S. policy...and at this stage it would be an advantage to have them labeled as terrorists."

Find out the secret behind the Middle East conflict.

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