From Owings Mills High School to a cell at Guantanamo

After admitting role in al-Qaida plots, former Md. man to help prosecutors try other terror suspects

  • Majid Shoukat Khan, a 1999 graduate of Owings Mills High School, was charged with murder, attempted murder, providing material support to terrorism and conspiracy.
Majid Shoukat Khan, a 1999 graduate of Owings Mills High School,… (Photo provided by Department…)
March 03, 2012|By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

A studious young man with an aptitude for computers, Majid Shoukat Khan was working as a database administrator in a high-rise office building in Tysons Corner, Va., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

After American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the western face of the Pentagon, the recent Owings Mill High School graduate watched from his office window as the smoke rose over the capital.

Osama bin Laden would claim credit for the attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad would boast of planning them.

And within months, Khan — a Pakistani immigrant who took classes in English as a second language, used his cricket skills to excel at baseball and once dreamed of becoming a rapper — would join their cause.

Khan, now 32, pleaded guilty last week to murder, espionage and conspiracy for his role in the deadly 2003 bombing of a hotel in Indonesia and plots to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and blow up gas stations in the United States.

Khan remains at Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held since 2006. Family members in Baltimore County did not return messages last week, and no one came to the door Friday when a reporter visited family homes in Windsor Mill and Randallstown.

But the plea agreement released after his arraignment and statements over the years by Khan, his family and others provide details of his journey from Baltimore County, where he arrived as a teenager in 1996, worked at his family's gas station and earned good grades in high school, to Camp 7 at Guantanamo Bay, a detention center so secret that its location within the base is classified.

J. Wells Dixon, one of Khan's attorneys, said that "there is a story behind his actions" but that Khan will wait until his sentencing to tell it.

"Majid Khan didn't just wake up one day and decide that he was going to conspire with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and al-Qaida," Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, told The Baltimore Sun. "His involvement was the result of a series of events in his life and a series of decisions that he now regrets and wishes that he had never made."

In the decade since Sept. 11, several young men from the Baltimore area have been accused in terror plots.

Antonio Benjamin Martinez, 22, of Woodlawn pleaded guilty last month to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in the failed 2010 bombing of the Armed Forces Career Center in Catonsville.

Craig Benedict Baxam, 24, an Iraq War veteran from Laurel, was charged in January with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization after he tried to travel to Somalia to join the al-Qaida-affiliated rebel group al-Shabaab.

Mohammad Hassan Khalid, 18, who grew up in Ellicott City, was indicted last year on the same charge, after authorities said he worked with the Philadelphia woman known as "Jihad Jane" to recruit Americans and Europeans for a "violent jihad organization."

Alone among them, Khan succeeded in gaining an introduction to Mohammad, working with al-Qaida and participating in at least one successful attack.

At his arraignment, Khan acknowledged taking orders from Mohammad and said he delivered the al-Qaida funding that helped finance the suicide bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that left 11 dead and 81 injured.

He told military judge Col. James L. Pohl that he did not know that the $50,000 that he carried from Pakistan to Thailand in late 2002 would be used in the deadly hotel attack, which was carried out after he was captured in March 2003. But he said he knew it was al-Qaida money, and he delivered it voluntarily.

Khan also acknowledged conspiring with "Sheikh Osama bin Laden," but told Pohl he never met the al-Qaida leader.

Under a plea agreement, Khan will serve no more than 19 years for the crimes, provided he cooperates with the government in the prosecutions of other terror suspects at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Under an unusual provision, his sentencing is to be delayed four years, at which point the tribunal will assess his cooperation.

The first allegations against Khan became public in late 2006, when he was one of 14 top terror suspects transferred from secret CIA prisons called "black sites" to Guantanamo Bay.

The group, which also included Mohammad, was designated "high-value targets" by President George W. Bush, and held in isolation from the other detainees at the base.

Khan, whose family had been granted political asylum in the United States, was the only one of the group with the legal authority to reside in the country.

Authorities said Khan had plotted to detonate the underground storage tanks of gas stations in the United States. At the time, family members rejected the idea of Khan as a terrorist.

"This is all crap — another lie from the Bush administration," his brother Ahmed Kahn told The Baltimore Sun in 2006. "He never thought of these things. It's so crazy."

Former teachers expressed shock.

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