SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, four other men are scheduled to appear in a military courtroom today at Guantanamo Bay. KSM, as he is known, has claimed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. But his record of involvement in terror goes beyond that one plot. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston examines the man who has worked to put himself at the middle of the battle against the West.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: It took years for intelligence officials to figure out just how central Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was to al-Qaida's plans to attack America. The first clues emerged after the arrests of some low-level terrorist operatives.
TERRY MCDERMOTT: Everybody who was caught knew him. Almost everybody knew of a different plot that he was putting them in.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Terry McDermott, the author of a new book called "The Hunt for KSM." And he says that Mohammed built a terrorist network with the sheer force of his personality.
MCDERMOTT: There was a kid from Baltimore, Majid Khan, a Pakistani-American. He met KSM, and within a week KSM had persuaded him to kill himself at his own wedding in order to kill President Musharraf of Pakistan. But can you imagine the gall it takes to ask somebody to do that?
TEMPLE-RASTON: That 2003 plot didn't work out. By that time, KSM had been a terrorist operative for more than a decade. From the early 1990s on, he had a hand in nearly every major terrorist plot targeting the U.S. Either his family was involved or his network financed a plot or he himself played a key role. Some examples: The 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That was the work of his nephew, Ramzi Yousef. The 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia - he helped pay for those. A foiled 1995 plot to blow up a dozen jetliners over the Pacific - KSM did some of the reconnaissance for that plot himself. And that was only the beginning. Author Terry McDermott says that after 9/11 the U.S. couldn't conceive of the vast number of plots that KSM had set in motion.
MCDERMOTT: They were looking for a single thing - what's next. The problem was that there was nothing next, no one thing next, there were a hundred of them.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Many of these plots are long forgotten, but they all had one thing in common - the hand of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Back in 2003, an Ohio truck driver had been sent to attack the Brooklyn Bridge. When it became clear that the bridge was too difficult a target, the suspect contacted the person who had sent him. Authorities traced that communication. NYPD Intelligence chief Mitch Silber said the man behind the plot was no surprise.
MITCH SILBER: The information went right back to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It's a very hands-on manager.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Even nearly a decade after his arrest, KSM's name is still turning up. It happened again just last month in a terrorism trial in Brooklyn. One of the people the prosecution called was a shoe bomber - not the shoe bomber everyone has heard of, Richard Reid, but a second man who was supposed to blow up another airliner as part of a simultaneous mission. KSM brought the two men together. Again, the NYPD's Mitch Silber.
SILBER: KSM gave him the final orders. He and Richard Reid, the last person they saw from al-Qaida before they left the Af-Pak region was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
TEMPLE-RASTON: KSM's arraignment comes just days after the anniversary of the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Many officials argue that bin Laden's group couldn't have done what it did without Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He was the man at the center of it all, whose family, financing and creativity sparked more than a decade of violence. Now, though, after nine years in custody, KSM is less relevant. And his trial may not excite followers.
PHIL MUDD: I think ten years ago this might have had some impact.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Phil Mudd was a top counterterrorism official with the FBI and CIA.
MUDD: I am sure they'll get out and talk about it but I don't think it will have much of a ripple effect across the potential group of extremists that al-Qaida wants to recruit. They've just lost too much traction.
TEMPLE-RASTON: It could take years before Khalid Sheikh actually goes to trial, and even his trial is a family affair. One of the co-defendants is a man named Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. He's one another one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's nephews. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.