Last month, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, walked into a military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and tried to wreak havoc. He cracked jokes with his four co-defendants, ignored the judge when he addressed him and spent part of the proceedings reading a magazine. After a 13-hour arraignment, he refused to enter a plea.
KSM, as he is known, is equal parts clowning buffoon and evil genius. He cracks jokes one minute and holds courtrooms spellbound with his admissions the next. His ego is legendary. His original Sept. 11 plan included a media event. He wanted to hijack an additional plane, land it at a major U.S. airport and then, from the tarmac, explain to America why it was under attack. Osama bin Laden is said to have diplomatically called that part of the plot a little “too complicated.”
(Little, Brown & Co.) - ’The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’ by Terry McDermott & Josh Meyer
After nearly a decade in U.S. custody — including four years at CIA black sites, where the United States admits he was waterboarded — KSM doesn’t appear to have changed much. Although he has been out of the violent jihadi scene for years, he still considers himself the sun around which that world revolves. So much so that when the Red Cross visited him for the first time after his 2003 capture, KSM didn’t want to talk about waterboarding or the conditions of his confinement. Instead, his top priority was a photo shoot. He wanted the Red Cross to release a portrait of him with a proper long beard. Evidently, the picture released shortly after his capture (more about that later) — all threadbare T-shirt and wild hair — was driving him crazy.
With timing that most publishers can only dream about, two former investigative reporters for the Los Angeles Times, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, have released the ultimate primer for those following the Sept. 11 trial. “The Hunt for KSM” was years in the making, and the book not only seeks to decode KSM just as he is about to return to center stage, but also introduces readers to the three people in U.S. law enforcement who seemed to recognize the threat KSM presented before anyone else. Had the intelligence community understood his ties to al-Qaeda in a more timely fashion, the authors suggest, Sept. 11 might never have happened. Instead, as late as 2002, U.S. officials thought KSM was a freelancer and a jihadi financier, not a mastermind of terrorist plots.
As evidenced by the subtitle — “Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind” — the book works from the assumption that KSM is guilty. That’s because what interests the authors more than his guilt or innocence is how a man from Baluchistan, Pakistan, managed to turn himself into nothing less than the Kevin Bacon of terrorism. Nearly every major plot leveled against the United States from 1990 until years after the 2001 attacks had fewer than six degrees of separation from KSM. Either his family was involved, or his financing network coaxed something along, or he himself played a key role. His nephew Ramzi Yousef dreamed up the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. A KSM intimate partly financed the nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia. And the early reconnaissance for a 1995 plot to blow up a dozen American-flagged jetliners over the Pacific, according to McDermott and Meyer, was done by KSM himself.