Qatari Royal Family Linked to Al Qaeda

ByABC News
February 7, 2003, 12:48 PM

Feb. 7 -- American officials say the FBI and CIA just missed capturing the al Qaeda leader believed to have organized the 9/11 attacks and now believed to be planning a new attack against Americans because it appears he was protected and tipped off by a member of the royal family in Qatar, Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Thani.

American authorities say Khalid Shaikh Mohammed masterminded behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for Osama bin Laden, and is now considered bin Laden's second in command.

Mohammed, a Kuwait-born Pakistani national on the FBI's most-wanted terrorists list, has been linked to the April 11, 2002 suicide truck bombing of the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia where at least 19 tourists, mostly Germans, were killed.

He has been charged in connection with plots in the Philippines to bomb trans-Pacific airliners and crash a plane into CIA headquarters. Those were broken up in 1995. He is believed to be related to Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"I would say that he's extremely dangerous," said Jack Cloonan, a New York-based senior terrorism investigator for the FBI, who retired earlier this year and is now an ABCNEWS consultant. "He's the person who is going to attack the United States."

In 1996, the FBI tracked Mohammed, under indictment on charges of terrorism, to Qatar's capital city, Doha, and was within hours of capturing him.

Cloonan, who was the lead FBI agent on the case, said a specially equipped government executive jet, complete with blacked-out windows, was standing by to transport Mohammed.

"We had located Khalid Sheikh," Cloonan told ABCNEWS. "We were prepared to fly the plane in and to take him out."

But Cloonan says Mohammed was tipped off shortly after Qatar officials were told of the plan and headed for the airport.

"Somebody had leaked the information to Khalid Sheikh and he left," said Cloonan. "It certainly, in my judgment, [was] a significant opportunity that was missed."