Wednesday, March 05, 2003

2nd Key Al Qaeda Suspect Identified

Raid in Pakistan Also Yielded the Man Who Allegedly Paid Hijackers
By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2003; Page A01

One of the men captured in the raid last weekend in Pakistan that netted al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed allegedly served as paymaster to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists and has been named in several other federal investigations linked to that plot, authorities said yesterday.

In the tumult of the raid Saturday morning, U.S. and Pakistani authorities did not immediately realize that they had apprehended Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, a Saudi native who allegedly oversaw the hijacking plot's finances through bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates.

Hawsawi also has been named in two terrorism-related indictments in this country. He is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person facing trial in the United States as part of the Sept. 11 plot. And Hawsawi is named in a false-statements case against Ali S. Marri, a Qatari man who the FBI contends gathered information in his Peoria, Ill., apartment about dangerous chemicals and U.S. infrastructure targets.

When Pakistani authorities rousted a sleeping Mohammed and two companions in a house in Rawalpindi early Saturday, Hawsawi sought to hide his identity, claiming he was a Somali. It took some time before the Pakistani officials and CIA agents figured out that they had apprehended a man who on any other day would have been considered a big catch in the war on terror.

"It wasn't immediately apparent who he was or how important he was," a senior government official said yesterday. "It doesn't reach the level of excitement of [Khalid Sheik Mohammed], but it's an extra added attraction."

Officials have called the capture of Mohammed a major blow against al Qaeda. He was a top lieutenant in the terrorist network and had been planning more attacks on U.S. interests, they say.

Hawsawi was allegedly the paymaster for the Sept. 11 plot in the months leading up to the attacks, when he established bank and credit card accounts used by the hijackers, according to testimony from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to Congress last fall.

Hawsawi opened accounts at Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai in June 2001. He wired money to bank accounts opened by the hijackers in this country, and sent at least one of them a credit card drawn on a UAE account. Just before the Sept. 11 attacks, some hijackers sent or wired their remaining funds back to the Hawsawi account.

Mueller said that Mohammed also had a credit card drawn on a Hawsawi account. Federal officials said the remaining money in the account was withdrawn from the account in Karachi, Pakistan, in the days after the attacks.

In the case against Marri, prosecutors contend that participants in the hijacking plot, including Mohamed Atta and self-described coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh, are tied to a phone number that belonged to Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates. Atta called the number, according to prosecutors, and Hawsawi used it while making a wire transfer of funds to Binalshibh on Sept. 3, 2001, the government alleges.

Marri, who is being held without bail in New York, is accused of lying to the FBI about calls the government says he made to Hawsawi's phone number in the two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Marri, who is also charged with credit card fraud, has denied making calls to the number or knowing Hawsawi. The government contends that he placed calls from various phones using a calling card.

The FBI is continuing its investigation of Marri's activities and contacts in this country. Marri, who was born in Saudi Arabia, arrived in the United States with his wife and five children on Sept. 10, 2001, and immediately sought to register for computer science classes that had begun weeks earlier at Bradley University in Peoria.

He was detained as a material witness in December 2001 and charged in the false-statements case in December 2002. His wife, a Saudi citizen, was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, but returned to Saudi Arabia with her children in November, after the Saudi Embassy provided her with travel documents and transportation, angering State Department and law enforcement officials. The FBI had confiscated Maha Hafeez Marri's passport.

U.S. authorities are seeking to learn more about Marri's intentions and his contacts in this country. Hawsawi might be in a position to explain why Marri would have called his number.

In a search of Marri's apartment, the FBI said in a complaint, agents found computer files containing lectures by Osama bin Laden, as well as files about hazardous chemicals "immediately dangerous to life or health" and Web sites related to weapons and satellite equipment. Agents also found an almanac bookmarked for information about U.S. dams, waterways and railroads.

Hawsawi has been taken to an undisclosed location outside Pakistan for interrogation. An intelligence source said he is believed to have contacts with al Qaeda financial networks in Europe and will be interrogated about those ties as well.

Federal officials have said Hawsawi transferred money to the hijackers to pay for living expenses, flight training and airline tickets.

Research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.