For Yosri Fouda, the leading investigative journalist with the al-Jazeera satellite TV network, interviewing the al-Qa'ida operative Ramzi bin al-Shibh last June was one of the great scoops of his career.
But now, with Mr bin al-Shibh in American custody after being captured in Pakistan, Mr Fouda has reason to fear for his safety. He told The Washington Post in an interview published yesterday that he did not plan to return to Pakistan for now and would keep the lowest possible profile to avoid trouble from al-Qa'ida sympathisers. "I hope we can escape with the least damage possible," he said from al-Jazeera's head office in Qatar.
It was Mr Fouda's bad luck that Mr bin al-Shibh's arrest coincided almost exactly with the broadcast of his two-part interview on al-Jazeera. Days earlier, he had also penned an article for various European newspapers describing in detail his contacts with al-Qa'ida, including the chronology of anonymous phone calls, mystery car trips and strikingly frank conversations conducted over two days in a residential compound in Karachi.
Although the interview was conducted several months ago, at least some al-Qa'ida sympathisers posting messages on the internet have blamed Mr Fouda for the arrest of Mr bin al-Shibh. They have called him a pig and a traitor.
Mr Fouda, who lives in London and hosts a closely followed investigative show on the Arab language TV network called Top Secret, had no illusions that agreeing to go along with al-Qa'ida for the interview was going to be a delicate operation. Because of its exceptional contacts in the Islamic fundamentalist world, al-Jazeera is a station of enormous interest both to the propagandists of al-Qa'ida and for the international intelligence services determined to track down the organisation's leaders. "My main worry is getting caught in between," Mr Fouda said.
Mr Fouda also interviewed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who described himself as al-Qa'ida's military commander. Between them, they gave a substantial confession concerning the 11 September attacks and indicated that they were the new leadership of al-Qa'ida – referring on one occasion to Osama bin Laden in the past tense.
It is not yet clear whether Mr Mohammed was arrested or killed in last week's raid on the Karachi compound where he lived with Mr bin al-Shibh.
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