Terrorism suspect has Balto. Co. ties

September 11, 2006|By Julie Scharper and Siobhan Gorman | Julie Scharper and Siobhan Gorman,sun reporters

A 1999 graduate of Owings Mills High School was moved to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last week after being captured in Pakistan in 2003 and held in a secret CIA prison on allegations linking him to terrorism.

Majid Khan, 26, allegedly plotted to blow up gas stations and poison water supplies in the United States, according to a document posted on the Web site of the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte.

Khan and 13 other suspected terrorists -- including Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, who is thought to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks -- were moved from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday and identified publicly on the Web site.

Along with his parents and seven siblings, Khan had moved from Pakistan to Catonsville in 1996. After graduating from high school, he became involved in a local Islamic organization and then returned to Pakistan in 2002. There, an uncle and cousin who were al-Qaida operatives drafted Khan, according to the document.

Muhammad had singled out Khan to work as an operative in the United States because he spoke fluent English, knew the Baltimore and Washington areas and had passed a test showing he was willing to commit suicide for his cause, according to the material on the Negroponte's Web site.

In 2002, it said, Khan delivered money earmarked for terrorist attacks against Western targets to a well-connected al-Qaida operative who also arrived at the Guantanamo prison last week.

According to his profile on the intelligence Web site, Khan and another suspected al-Qaida operative discussed plans to transport explosives for use with al-Qaida attacks, using the New York office of a Karachi-based textile import and export business.

In 2003, the document said, Khan arranged for a man named Uzair Paracha to impersonate him in the United States in order to obtain documents that would allow Khan to illegally re-enter the country, according to intelligence documents. Paracha -- who tried to create the appearance that Khan had never left the country -- was convicted in July and sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing material support to terrorism.

Former neighbors in Catonsville were shocked to learn that Khan had been linked to terrorism. They remembered him as a polite and respectful young man who was very knowledgeable about computers.

The Khan family owned a gas station on U.S. 40 west of Baltimore before selling it a few years ago, neighbors said.

The only thing unusual about the Khan family, neighbors said, was that their home was often under surveillance. About three years ago, people parked in front of the Khan home and watched it for nearly a month, they said.

Members of the Khan family, who moved from a rented home in Catonsville to Windsor Mill about a year ago, refused to comment on his case.

Standing outside her family's brick duplex home on a tree-lined street, a woman who identified herself as Khan's younger sister said that he was the youngest of her four brothers.

There were eight siblings in the family, said the woman, who declined to give her name. She said she lived with her father, two sisters and two nephews.

Neighbors in Catonsville recalled that Khan's mother died several years ago. Former classmates and teachers who remembered Khan could not be reached.

Khan's purported path to jihadism has "all of the ingredients" of a classic al-Qaida recruit, said Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism specialist with RAND Corp., a Washington think tank.

Khan moved to Baltimore as an adolescent, a time when many people are searching for an identity, Jenkins said. Becoming involved in a terrorist group might have given him that sense of identity, Jenkins said.

In addition, Jenkins noted, Khan's graduating from high school in 1999 coincided with some of the most intense periods of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. This might have pushed him toward jihadism because it exemplified Muslim suffering and the importance of fighting it.

"The narrative is the suffering of the devout," Jenkins said, which "elevates issues of honor and warrior values and things that have enormous appeal to 18-year-olds, and if you have any doubt of this, look at army recruiting videos."

Jenkins had no specific knowledge of Khan's case but has studied terrorism recruitment extensively and his book on the issue, Unconquerable Nation, was recently published.

Khan would have been very attractive to al-Qaida operatives, Jenkins said, because of his fluency in the English language and American culture. With his family still in the United States, he would likely arouse little suspicion when traveling in and out of America. And his knowledge of gas stations, combined with the explosives training he received from al-Qaida, would have presented an opportunity to execute attacks in the United States.

Linking up with al-Qaida, Jenkins said, would have given Khan a strong sense of belonging. But he noted that taking up with al-Qaida is not something potential recruits do suddenly.

Khan's case exemplifies the importance of stemming the tide of recruitment, Jenkins said.

"This is not an irreversible course," he said. "If we really understand [the recruitment process], more and more we can begin to impede the recruiting. We can deflect some of these people from going in."

Having Khan in U.S. custody, even after three years, still represents an opportunity, Jenkins said.

U.S. authorities should try to persuade him to abandon jihad and dissuade young Muslims from joining it in the first place -- much the way U.S. law enforcement has done with some former gang members.

"Coming from him it would have a lot more credibility than it would from Secretary Rumsfeld," Jenkins said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Anita Butler and Nia-Malika Henderson contributed to this article.

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