One of the women was a caretaker, and one child was hers. The other woman was a "foster mother" of sorts to the other two children, and the man her companion. The two boys, ages 7 and 9, were named Omar and Abdullah. Pakistani and American officials believe that their father is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
American authorities say the house contained photographs of Mohammed with the children; there was also evidence of another woman, thought to be Mohammed's wife. It seemed a happy, playful group, a senior FBI investigator said. Some thought that they might have missed Mohammed by mere minutes, so when the people they captured told them about a group of Arabs living at another address in Defense, the authorities called up reserves and hurried across town.
"Our officers moved immediately," said a senior Pakistani official. "No, we didn't know that he was there. But from the interviews and surveillance we knew there was something big going on. The number of people there, the weapons, the intelligence we gathered. "
After morning prayers, they found the caretaker, who told them that the entire top floor was filled with Arabs. They'd been there for two months, he said, and overpaid on the rent. The authorities went in, and all hell broke loose. They were fired on immediately, the Pakistani official said. "Then it was a free-for-all. We fired at the windowpanes, put in tear gas and stormed them."
Hundreds of rounds and two dead men later, the authorities secured the building. They searched room by room and in a storage space under a stairwell found the would-be Sept. 11 pilot Ramzi Binalshibh.
Afterward, and still, Karachi was thick with rumor. Mohammed was dead, was captured, was there and got away, was there and was allowed to get away.
The police are about the only ones who claim not to know how near they were to catching him that morning. They think that they were close, but they don't really know. They are, as they've been for a decade, still looking and they're not quite sure who it is they're trying to find.
They're hesitant to talk about it much, but intelligence officers acknowledge that they have interrogated Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's two young sons. Not surprisingly, the boys haven't had much to say. Not even his children know much about the man who engineered Sept. 11.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFBOX)
Portrait in Terror
Names: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and three dozen aliases
Background: Born and raised in Kuwait
College: Graduate of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University
Reward: $25 million offered for his capture as head of Al Qaeda military committee
Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella in Spain, special correspondent Dirk Laabs in Germany and researcher Robert Patrick in Washington contributed to this report.