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Ensor: Interrogation a 'higher priority than justice'

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CNN correspondent David Ensor

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials say they believe Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks of September 11, 2001, killed Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and slain in Pakistan.

They say the hands that held the knife that slit Pearl's throat belong to Mohammed. The killing was shown in a videotape sent to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, shortly before Pearl's body was found in 2002, but the killer's face is not visible.

CNN national security correspondent David Ensor joined anchor Miles O'Brien from Washington with more on the story.

ENSOR: U.S. officials say they have what they call new evidence indicating to them that it was, indeed, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed ... who personally slit the throat of Daniel Pearl ... who was kidnapped and killed ... in January 2002.

Now Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, this [would be] an extraordinary act for a man who was the mastermind, one of the senior officials in al Qaeda, to commit a murder personally. But U.S. officials say they are now convinced ... based on this new information, that he actually did the killing himself.

Now, officials say they do not believe he will be put on trial any time soon for this murder. He is a prisoner at an undisclosed location outside the United States, of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, but officials wouldn't rule out a trial or legal action against him at some time in the future.

O'BRIEN: David, why now? What was it about the evidence that came out at this point? Was there some analysis of that videotape? Do you have any sense of how they put this together?

ENSOR: You know, they are not willing to talk about what this new information is that they have. U.S. officials [are] unwilling to confirm whether or not Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has confessed to this crime, and in fact CNN's Kelli Arena was told by one official that there is no confession. So [it is] not clear at this point what the new evidence is, but it seems to be convincing a lot of people in the U.S. government that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed committed this murder ...

O'BRIEN: And, of course, we're getting into an area here which would be very difficult to confirm. We don't know where he's being held, much less whether he's cooperating with the authorities as they interrogate him.

ENSOR: Well, officials are unwilling to say anything about what Khalid Shaikh Mohammed may or may not be telling them.

But in a general sense, U.S. officials tell me that all of the senior al Qaeda prisoners that are in the hands mostly of the CIA are cooperating in one way or another, with their interrogators, have supplied useful intelligence at one time or another. So it may be that he's talking about this, but they're not telling us.

O'BRIEN: David, do you know if prior to this word today, if there was more or less a short list of suspects out there?

ENSOR: You know, there had been a suggestion. In fact, it was in the press at the time, by some of those who were being tried in a Pakistani court as accomplices in this crime. Back in September of last year, some of those in open court said in Pakistan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been the actual killer. But that at the time was treated with skepticism ... by U.S. officials. But apparently, they have some new information that is now causing them to say they believe it.

O'BRIEN: All right, and if, in fact ... at some point murder charges were leveled at him, what would the jurisdiction be, how would that all play out? Or are we getting way too far down the road here?

ENSOR: It's a very interesting question. You would have problems if it was Pakistan. You would have problems if it was the United States.

Certainly the highest priority for the U.S. intelligence and for the U.S. government right now is to pump every piece of information they can get out of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed about any possible future terrorism. That is a much higher priority than justice for him in this possible murder case.


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