Skip to comments.9/11 mastermind's Aussie visa
Posted on 09/21/2004 11:30:27 AM PDT by knighthawk
THE mastermind behind September 11 was granted a visa to visit Australia one month before the al-Qa'ida strikes on New York and Washington but authorities realised their error only after the attacks.
The tourist visa was granted to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed after he made an application using an alias through the Australian high commission in Islamabad in August 2001.
However, at that stage Australian authorities had not entered any of the aliases used by Khalid -- al-Qa'ida figurehead Osama bin Laden's military commander -- on their alert lists.
That was done only in the days following the attacks, which killed more than 3000 people. The visa was then revoked because the alias was found to match details on the application form.
However, Khalid had chosen to defer his trip, with intelligence officials suspecting he had become preoccupied with preparations for the September 11 attacks.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock last night confirmed details of Australia's close call with the al-Qa'ida chief, but would not speculate on why he tried to travel here.
"I can confirm he was given the visa in August 2001," Mr Ruddock said. "The practice would have been to run the visa through the movement alert system and come up with a hit on the alias.
"The protocol would normally have been to write to the visa holder to explain the decision. Clearly, this man would then not have got uplift if he subsequently tried to board an aircraft."
Senior regional intelligence officials who have studied the Khalid case believe he had designs on Sydney airport and was intending to rendezvous with two other al-Qa'ida operatives.
"We have had a good look at this," one Southeast Asian intelligence official said last week. "We don't know for sure, but the proximity to September 11 is more than coincidental. There have been repeated indications that he was on his way to meet two men known to him."
The suggestion could not be independently confirmed.
Revelations of Khalid's attempted visit offer the clearest insight yet into al-Qa'ida's designs on Australia.
Al-Qa'ida's current deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, claims to have visited Australia and New Zealand in 1992, nine years before the attacks on the US, as part of a regional tour to organise support for the then fledgling terrorist network.
Zawahiri told his Pakistani biographer, Hamid Mir, that he had visited Darwin while travelling on a false passport using one of several Christian names.
In the year before Khalid's interest in Australia, he had been visited in Pakistan by convicted Perth terrorist Jack Roche, whom Khalid later introduced to his boss, Osama bin Laden.
Khalid was arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in February 2003. His capture marked the most significant moment in the global round-up of al-Qa'ida.
He has since been held by the CIA in secret detention centres throughout the Middle East.
Debriefing reports from Khalid leaked over the past 18 months have revealed a portrait of a terrorist who was pleased with his track record, in particular the devastating success of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks.
Khalid has been accused of long having designs on spectacular strikes using airports as a launching pad.
He was indicted in absentia by the US in 1996 with plotting to blow up 11 American planes flying from Southeast Asia to the US in January 1995.
The foiled operation became known as the Bojinka plot.
Khalid has also been linked to the kidnap and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.
Stake him out on an anthill covered with honey.