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Report: CIA missed chance to nab terrorist

From the International Desk
Published 6/16/2002 10:28 AM
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PARIS, June 16 (UPI) -- The Central Intelligence Agency passed up a prime opportunity in December to nab Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a shadowy al Qaida operative who may have masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks, France's Journal du Dimanche reported Sunday.

The CIA initially planned to capture Mohammed in his alleged hideout in the Beirut suburbs of Lebanon, the French newspaper said. The area was reportedly a stronghold for terrorists in close contact with the al Qaida network, notably the Hezbollah.

But the attack -- supposedly to have been carried out by U.S. special forces, in coordination with former Lebanese informers and secret service agents -- was reportedly aborted for a number of reasons, including CIA fears of the risk and high cost of the operation.

Mohammed was described by Le Journal as a Kuwaiti, who helped plan and finance the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. An earlier report in the Los Angeles Times suggested that he may have spent time in Germany -- although German officials reportedly said they have no evidence of such a stay.

He remains at large, possibly somewhere between Iran and Pakistan, the French newspaper reported.

Last fall, according to Le Journal, Mohammed was linked only with plans to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, along with a 1994 plan to blow up a dozen airplanes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government's award for information about Mohammed last fall --$2 million -- has since soared to $25 million, the newspaper said.

According to Le Journal, the CIA had prepared Mohammed's capture to the last detail. Cars had been hired for the operation. The Syrian government, which has a major say in Lebanese affairs, had been warned.

But in December, high-level CIA officers vetoed the operation, for fear of too much "serious collateral damage" -- particularly, chances that innocent civilians could be killed.

The CIA reportedly fretted too that its Lebanese intermediaries -- who apparently asked for a $1.5 million downpayment for the operation -- were too greedy.

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