Seventeen years before 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Pakistani-raised militant identified as the attacks’ primary architect, was a 19-year-old engineering student in North Carolina who found most Americans to be “debauched and racist.” According to the CIA, Mohammed’s stint at two schools—first at tiny Chowan College, a Baptist school, and then at N.C. Agricultural and Technical University—was a turning point in his life, with the agency noting in a 2009 report that his “limited and negative experience in the [U.S.]—including a short stay in jail—almost certainly helped propel him on his path to become a terrorist.”
For nearly two decades, no one quite knew what formative event had nudged Mohammed toward his deadly future. Some speculated that he’d wrecked his car, while others claimed he’d been arrested for failing to pay his bills. Yet now, thanks to a public-records request that revealed a never-before-published arrest report, we have an answer: Mohammed’s dark journey began with a speeding ticket.
According to the Greensboro Police Department, on August 7, 1984, Mohammed was driving when he hit a patch of water and slammed into another car. For this he was charged with failure to reduce speed, and spent an undisclosed number of hours behind bars.
At the time Mohammed was driving a 1978 Oldsmobile that belonged to his nephew, Abdul Karim Mahmoud, also a student at N.C. A&T. Abdul Karim, also known as Musaad Aruchi, is either the brother or cousin of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, depending on which conflicting report you read. The Washington Post has written that he was a senior Al Qaeda operative who was arrested in Pakistan in 2004. Though his current whereabouts are unknown, he is believed to be in American custody.
The car Mohammed hit was driven by fellow Greensboro resident Delois Christian Davis, now 63, with passenger Letha Christian, now 78. Attempts to contact both women were unsuccessful.
Last year, working as a reporter in the area, I obtained the record from Greensboro authorities. While they originally said it would be impossible to find, within a month the police department tracked down the arrest—adding that no one, not even the federal government, had yet requested it.
Mohammed, who also spent part of his childhood in Kuwait, joined the Muslim Brotherhood when he was 16. After college he fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, a move that eventually brought him into contact with Osama bin Laden in 1996.
According to the 9/11 Commission, Mohammed was the man behind the attacks, the 10th anniversary of which was of course observed this past Sunday. Mohammed is also suspected in many other plots, including the murder of veteran Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whom he allegedly beheaded. In 2003, he was captured by Pakistani forces. And while the feds may have been incurious about his past before, they’re almost certainly aware of it now, seeing as how he’s currently awaiting trial in Guantanamo Bay.