“You may not be in a religious war with me, but I’m in a religious war with you,” recalled former CIA interrogator James Mitchell the views of al-Qaeda (AQ) mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad(KSM). Interviewed on December 6 at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) before an audience of about 70, Mitchell provided chilling, essential insight into the jihadist worldview currently threatening the globe.
AEI Resident Fellow Marc A. Thiessen introduced Mitchell as someone who “has spent thousands of hours with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other senior al-Qaeda operatives” and “looked directly into the face of evil.” Mitchell concurred that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, considered the leading technical genius behind AQ’s devastating September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was “devil and diva,” whom Mitchell and other interrogators called “muq” after the Arabic word for brain, muqtar. Comparing him to a Star Wars “Jedi master” recruiting jihadist “Jedi warriors,” Mitchell found him “immensely charming. He reminded me of Yoda,” yet “that is often how evil looks.”
Mitchell recalled that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad “thought he was a Sufi” and “likes to sit there and talk…to tell you about his religion,” yet he appeared to Mitchell as no mere blusterer. Mitchell compared his AEI audience to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, stating “I haven’t seen this much raw brain power in one place since the last time I sat in his cell with just him.” He “is probably the brightest person I have ever seen in my life, and I have seen some pretty bright people.”
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s evil genius came to life in Mitchell’s recounting of his description of his 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter and jihadist hostage in Pakistan. He remembered that he “had sharp knives. The toughest part was getting through the neck bone.” or him, this killing showed God’s “glory, shows how much his influence is. It’s almost like an act of worship to him.”
While “not attacking all of Islam,” Mitchell saw in Khalid Sheikh Mohammad how “these Islamists, who want to destroy our way of life, have a set of beliefs that make them incredibly dangerous.” For Islamists, “how we’re supposed to live was established 1,400 years ago in the Koran and in the perfect words and deeds” of Islam’s prophet
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