Today's Papers

Frozen Turkey

Everybody leads with the capture and arrest of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a top al-Qaida operative suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Mohammed, aka “The Brain,” and two other suspected al-Qaida members—Ahmed Qadoos Khan, a Pakistani, and a man identified only as being of Arab decent—were apprehended in a pre-dawn raid yesterday in Pakistan. U.S. officials described the arrest as being the most significant detention yet in the ongoing war on terrorism and would be surpassed only by the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

Specific details about how Mohammed was captured vary among the papers, which together publish more than a half dozen stories on the arrest. The Los Angeles Times’ lead says “a joint team of Pakistani and U.S. agents” apprehended Mohammed, but write-ups in the Washington Post and the New York Times  go overboard to emphasize that Pakistani agents (tipped off by U.S. intelligence officials in Islamabad, according to the WP) led the raid on their own. According to the papers, that’s a major change from previous operations, when FBI and CIA agents assisted their foreign counterparts in arresting other suspected terrorists. Yet the U.S. role in such raids is “politically sensitive” these days, as possible war against Iraq looms, the NYT notes.

Whatever role the Americans played, Mohammed was placed in U.S. custody and taken to an unknown location outside both Pakistan and the U.S. (The WP, alone among the papers, says the unidentified Arab was also placed in U.S. custody, while Khan remains in Pakistan.) According to the LAT, U.S. officials are looking to “disorient and break” Mohammed in hopes of finding out information on Bin Laden’s whereabouts and other terror attacks that might be in the works.

An ethnic Pakistani who grew up in Kuwait, Mohammed studied engineering at a college in North Carolina in the 1980s, according to a NYT profile. He fought with Afghan rebels against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was “radicalized” by the experience. In addition to the Sept. 11 attacks, he is suspected of planning virtually every major al-Qaida bombing in recent years. Officials also believe Mohammad was involved in the 1993 attack against the World Trade Center. Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of that bombing, is reportedly Mohammed’s nephew.

All the papers note that Mohammed also is suspected of playing a role in the kidnapping and murder last year of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The WP notes up high that Mohammed has been fingered by captured al-Qaida operatives as being the one who actually slit Pearl’s throat. “He is widely described as the most dangerous man in al-Qaida,” the paper says.

Everybody fronts word that Turkey dealt a major blow yesterday to the Bush administration’s war plans against Iraq: By three votes, the Turkish parliament defeated a measure that would have allowed the U.S. to deploy troops from the country’s bases. While the White House downplayed the vote’s effects, it could force a major rewrite of the Iraq playbook, which had called for troops to advance toward Baghdad from both the north and the south, in hopes of dividing the Iraqi army.

U.S. officials tell the papers they won’t request another vote—though diplomats did ask for a “clarification.” The results seemingly caught everyone off guard—especially Turkish leaders, many of whom had endorsed the resolution, the NYT notes. Prime Minister Abdullah Gal announced he and other leaders would meet on Sunday to discuss how to proceed, though many declared the vote to be “final.” While most agree that anti-war sentiment in Turkey contributed to the outcome—9 out of 10 Turks oppose the war, the WP reports—the LAT speculates that a less than savory economic aid package from the U.S. also sank the deal.

Meanwhile, a front-pager in the WP says, developments in Turkey aside, the U.S. war plan is ready to go. The piece, largely a retread of what’s already been reported, says, among other things, that Special Operations forces are already working inside Iraq ( are you serious?), there will be a lot more bombs this time around (really?), and most of those bombs will be so-called smart bombs, as in precision-guided munitions.

Under the watchful eye of United Nations weapons inspectors, Iraq yesterday destroyed four of its reported 100 Al Samoud 2 missiles, the papers report. Instead of blowing them up, as the UN would like, Iraq insisted on crushing the missiles with a bulldozer. The WP fronts an update on the number of Allied troops in the Persian Gulf.  About 225,000 troops are now within striking distance of Baghdad—most of them are in Kuwait.

The LAT off-leads word that potential war in Iraq has increased the number of young men joining anti-American extremist groups in Europe. According to law enforcement officials, the new recruits come from all classes—rich or poor, educated or not—and al-Qaida is taking advantage of the situation to beef up its membership. The group reportedly has set up training camps throughout Europe and Russia to compensate for the loss of ground in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to call for Saddam’s resignation, everybody reports. According to the NYT, UAB president Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan proposed immunity from prosecution if Saddam and senior Iraqi officials leave their posts within the next two weeks. The proposal jolted members of the Arab League, where it was presented, and after a few testy exchanges, the panel adjourned without formally taking up the measure.

In the LAT, Ron Brownstein looks at President Bush’s increasingly aggressive governing style that has taken Washington by surprise. Bush talked up being “a uniter, not a divider” when he ran for the White House in 2000 and even boasted some centrist qualities when he was governor of Texas. Yet these days the divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington is wider than ever—but the president insists the partisan bickering isn’t his fault. Says Bush: “In Texas, everybody was a lot friendlier and a lot more interested in the result than the process.”

Finally, are you feeling lucky today? A piece in the NYT’s “Week in Review” section says several online gaming sites are taking bets on whether there will be a war between the U.S. and Iraq. So far, at least 7,000 people have placed bets totaling almost $1 million on various gaming sites. The odds for bombs over Baghdad erupting next weekend: 3 to 2. The following weekend: 7 to 4.