MANILA, Philippines – The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks lived lavishly in the Philippines, lounging in five-star hotels and once flying a helicopter over an office to try to impress a woman.
The insight into Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's personality was given Monday by former and current top Philippines intelligence officials who spent years hunting the suspect while he was living in this Southeast Asian nation in the mid-1990s.
Pakistani officials captured Mohammed in Pakistan as he slept early Saturday, culminating a longtime manhunt for the No. 3 man in Usama bin Laden's network. Pakistani Ahmed Abdul Qadus and an unidentified Somali man were also detained.
During his years living in this tropical archipelago nation, Mohammed allegedly directed operations of an Al Qaeda cell that plotted to bomb U.S. airliners flying out of Asia and assassinate Pope John Paul II, who visited Manila in 1995, Philippine police intelligence director Roberto Delfin told the AP.
Delfin said Mohammed took time out from allegedly plotting terror attacks to learn how to scuba dive during a weeklong holiday at a beach resort south of Manila.
He went on vacation with his nephew Ramzi Yousef, who was later convicted and sentenced to life in a U.S. prison for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, former top police intelligence official Rodolfo Mendoza said.
Mohammed "projected himself as a rich businessman from Qatar, classy, educated, fluent in English," Mendoza said.
He lounged at coffee shops in Manila's five-star hotels and once flew a helicopter over the clinic of a Filipino dentist he was courting to impress her, Mendoza said.
The woman challenged Mohammed, who flew the helicopter himself, "to rent an aircraft and fly over (her clinic) while talking with the lady dentist through his mobile phone and waving," Mendoza said in an earlier interview with the AP.
To earn some money on the side, Mohammed worked as a carpet salesman, Delfin said.
"We didn't know if it was his lifestyle or a cover, but the guy was certainly smart," Mendoza said.
Mohammed and his companions would frequent nightclubs and hotel bars in Manila despite being Muslim, which bans the consumption of alcohol, Mendoza said.
When the terror suspect arrived in the Philippines, he lived in a room in Yousef's modest apartment. But then later Mohammed moved into a plush condominium suite in an upscale Manila suburb.
A photograph shows Mohammed shortly after his arrest, wearing a white T-shirt. His hair is disheveled and his traditional beard gone, replaced by a small mustache.
Reports of Mohammed's whereabouts were conflicting. Senior Pakistani officials have told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that Mohammed has left that country and is in U.S. custody. Publicly, however, the government denies it has turned him over.