WASHINGTON (AP) – FBI and CIA experts dug through computers and piles of other information yesterday from the Pakistani home of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, searching for clues that new terror strikes might be imminent.
In addition to his capture on Saturday, government officials said authorities had caught Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman, a son of the blind Egyptian sheik accused of inspiring the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
The younger Abdel-Rahman was caught several weeks ago in Quetta, Pakistan, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Pakistani officials have suggested the Quetta arrest helped lead authorities to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, although American sources disputed that.
Officials also said they believe they have captured a suspected financier of Sept. 11. The financier, whose nationality was uncertain, was captured with Mohammed.
Mohammed was questioned yesterday by U.S. authorities seeking information about safe houses and hideouts used by the al-Qaida terror network, a Pakistani intelligence official said. Mohammed’s exact whereabouts were unclear.
He had been plotting attacks against targets in the United States and Saudi Arabia in the weeks before his capture, U.S. counterterrorism officials contended.
Such attacks might have been against commercial or other lightly defended civilian targets, officials said, although they acknowledged they did not know whether al-Qaida targets had been selected.
Intelligence about Mohammed’s activities led in part to the orange alert that lasted most of February, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.
“Some of the concerns we had that caused us to raise the threat level were attributable to the planning he was involved in,” Ridge said. “There were multiple reasons that we raised the threat level and his relation to one of the plot lines was one of the several.”
Ridge declined to discuss specifics but said the threat level was lowered last week because later information showed that plans for attacks had been disrupted and were less likely to occur.
Authorities recovered a huge amount of information about al-Qaida at the house in Pakistan where Mohammed and two others were arrested early Saturday, a senior law enforcement official said yesterday.
Recovered at the home in Rawalpindi were computers, disks, cell phones and documents. Authorities believe the materials will provide names, locations and potential terrorist plots of al-Qaida cells in the United States and around the world.
Mohammed also was believed by U.S. officials to have details about the group’s finances.
He was captured as he slept early Saturday. Pakistani Ahmed Abdul Qadus and an unidentified third man were also detained.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “We are hoping that this will lead to substantial additional information on al-Qaida, on al-Qaida’s plans and al-Qaida’s operations.”
Officials expressed concern that al-Qaida cells could accelerate plots in the United States and elsewhere rather than run the risk of being captured.