“My God, that must be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” Frank Pellegrino exclaimed as he sat in a hotel room in Malaysia, watching on TV the plane crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the Lower area. Manhattan, New York City, USA, September 11, 2001.
Pellegrino, a former agent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) knows this thanks to his special role. He had been following Mohammed for nearly three decades and realized that the goals and ways of the 9/11 terrorist attacks coincided with Mohammed’s plots. However, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has yet to face justice. A lawyer for Mohammed even told the BBC that it could take another 20 years for the case to be closed.
Osama bin Laden, then the leader of al-Qaeda, was most closely associated with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. But in fact, Mohammed, or “KSM,” as he was known, was the “chief architect” of the terrorist plot, according to the US 9/11 Commission. He was the one who came up with the idea to attack America and bring it to al-Qaeda.
Born in Kuwait, Mohammed studied in the US before going to Afghanistan to fight in the 1980s. Years before the 9/11 attacks, FBI agent Frank Pellegrino tracked him down.
Pellegrino was assigned by the FBI to investigate the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. It was the first time that the name of Mohammed was noticed by US authorities because he had transferred money to someone involved in the bombing.
FBI agents realized Mohammed’s ambitions in 1995, when he was identified as being involved in a plot to blow up international airliners over the Pacific. In the mid-1990s, Pellegrino nearly caught Mohammed, following him all the way to Qatar.
Pellegrino and his team went to Oman and from there they planned to go to Qatar to capture Mohammed. A plane was prepared to bring the suspect back to the US. However, they encountered obstacles from American diplomats in the field. Pellegrino went to Qatar and told the ambassador and other officials at the embassy that he had an indictment against Mohammed for plotting to attack airlines. But according to Pellegrino, diplomatic officials are wary because they do not want to cause trouble in Qatar.
“I guess they thought this would upset the situation,” Pellegrino recalls.
Finally, the ambassador informed Pellegrino that Qatari officials claimed to have let Mohammed go. “Feelings of anger and frustration welled up,” he said. “We knew at that moment that we had missed a rare opportunity.”
But Pellegrino also admits that in the mid-1990s, Mohammed was not yet considered a high-priority target. Pellegrino couldn’t even put him on America’s 10 Most Wanted list.
Mohammed seemed to have received a warning about the special interest of the US investigative agency, so he fled from Qatar to Afghanistan.
A few years later, the name KSM repeatedly appeared in the directories of terrorist suspects arrested around the world, indicating that he had a very good connection. It was during this time that he came to bin Laden with the idea of training pilots to fly planes into buildings inside the United States.
And then 9/11 happened. Pellegrino’s suspicions about the KSM’s role were proven correct when a key al-Qaeda member named him in his testimony.