RP, AUSSIE WANT TO QUESTION AL QAEDA BRAINS  

Sydney, Australia, March 4, 2003 -- Authorities of Australia and the Philippines would like to question captured al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about his possible role in terrorist plots against their countries.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said his country's intelligence agencies may want to interrogate Mohammed about a double car bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali last October than killed more than 200 people, including 89 Australians.

"Links that he has to Jemaah Islamiyah and to the Bali bombing obviously would be a considerable line of question for us," Downer said, referring to the Indonesian Islamic group believed to have carried out the attack.

Mohammed is believed to be the third-highest member of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and is considered the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

He has also been accused of planning to bomb US airliners in Asia and of plotting to assassinate Pope John Paul II during a 1995 visit to Manila.

Downer said Australia would decide if it has a case to interrogate Mohammed once US agents and the Pakistanis finish questioning him.

Philippines Foreign Minister Blas Ople, in Australia to sign a bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation accord, said his government counterpart could also seek access to Mohammed.

"I'm merely foreseeing the possibility that both your intelligence community and ours will want to take their turns in interviewing Mr. Mohammed," Ople said at a joint press conference with Downer.

Downer said Australia would be particularly interested in Mohammed's role in promoting Jemaah Islamiyah and its terrorism plots, which included plans to blow up the Australian, American and British missions in Singapore in 2001.

"Although we believe Jemaah Islamiyah has been behind the Bali bombing ... we suspect that there be links from that to al-Qaeda," Downer said.

"I don't think there's any doubt bearing in mind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's role in organizing terrorist operations in southeast Asia that he'd be able to throw light on links between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah."

Downer stressed that the United States and Pakistan had first priority in determining what Mohammed knows.

"We'll just see how it goes in terms of whether we would directly be involved in interrogations, whether that would be necessary," he said.

Earlier Tuesday a US lawyer claimed to have found hard evidence that the Bali bombers may have received funds from Saudi Arabia via the same network that helped finance al-Qaeda.

The attorney, Allan Gerson, said he traced Saudi funds through terror cells in Europe and on to groups in Bali linked to the bombings.

"When we looked at the actual evidence, we found out, to our surprise, how vast the network of support was, it extended way beyond cells in Europe to cells in Bali," Gerson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Thirty people, all of them Indonesians, have been arrested in connection with the Bali attack, which killed 202 people from 21 countries according to the Indonesian police


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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