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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti who attended university in the United States, is the self-proclaimed architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks and a host of other anti-Western plots.

The Pentagon announced charges on Wednesday against Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 plotters, clearing the way for a high-profile trial long delayed by a debate in the United States over whether they should be prosecuted in a civilian or military court.

Known simply as KSM by US officials, the 46-year-old trained engineer was regarded as one of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s most trusted and intelligent lieutenants before his March 2003 capture in Pakistan.

Facing trial ... Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Facing trial … Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Photo: Reuters

In addition to felling the twin towers, Mohammed claims to have personally beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 with his “blessed right hand” and to have helped in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing that killed six people.

Among several plots he admitted to interrogators that failed to materialise were assassinations of the late Pope John Paul II and former US presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Mohammed was born on April 24, 1965 to a Pakistani family living in the conservative Gulf sheikhdom of Kuwait but his roots lie in Baluchistan, a restive Pakistani region bordering Afghanistan.

He claims to have joined the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Muslim militant group, when he was 16, beginning a life-long infatuation with violent jihad.

In 1983, Mohammed moved to the United States for his studies and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with a degree in mechanical engineering three years later.

The following year he travelled to Afghanistan and fought for the Islamic mujahideen against the Soviet invasion but it was not until a botched 1995 plot to blow up US airliners over the Pacific, known as Operation Bojinka, that he achieved notoriety.

Safely out of reach in Qatar by the time the Philippine authorities unravelled the plot, KSM was thought to have participated in the planning of an attack for the first time, having only contributed money to his nephew Ramzi Yousef’s 1993 car-bombing at the World Trade Centre.

Although he and bin Laden fought together in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, it was not until 10 years later that they forged a close relationship and Mohammed allegedly began plotting what would later become the September 11 attacks.

Most of what we know about Mohammed has come from interrogation transcripts released by the Pentagon and there are bound to be questions at his trial over the harsh procedures used to obtain that information.

He is known to have been “waterboarded” or subjected to simulated drowning 183 times during his years in US custody, a technique which rights groups have denounced as torture.

In reported confessions released previously, Mohammed was quoted as claiming to be the “military operational commander” for all al-Qaeda foreign operations.

“I’m not making myself a hero, when I said I was responsible for this or that,” he was quoted as saying in the transcript.

“I’m looking to be a martyr for long time,” he told a hearing at Guantanamo in June 2008, the first time he had been seen in public since his 2003 arrest in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

He was handed over almost immediately to US agents who held him in secret prisons for over three years before sending him to Guantanamo in September 2006.

Photos released by the US military at the time showed a wild-eyed, dishevelled man in a white T-shirt, but more recent pictures have shown him with a long black and grey beard and a white turban.

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