A top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, identified as a major recruiter for the al Qaeda terrorist network, has been turned over to U.S. authorities after his capture in Pakistan.
U.S. officials said a man identified as Abu Zubaydah was among more than three dozen Pakistanis and others rounded up last week in raids in Faisalabad, Lahore and Multan. He suffered three gunshot wounds trying to escape and is being detained at an undisclosed location.
Pakistani officials confirmed Zubaydah’s identity last night, saying he was captured in conjunction with the CIA and the FBI in a raid Thursday at a compound in Faisalabad.
He tentatively was identified in Faisalabad as Zubaydah from photographs and by eyewitnesses at the site, none of whom was identified. Although Zubaydah was never named as one of the FBI’s top fugitives, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice recently told the Associated Press that the United States had “followed him for a long time a very dangerous character.”
Zubaydah would be the highest-ranking al Qaeda member in U.S. custody and, according to law enforcement authorities, would probably know whether bin Laden was still alive and, if so, where he might be.
U.S. officials have said that after the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, Zubaydah appears to have replaced Mohammed Atef as the primary contact for al Qaeda recruits and as the organizer of overseas operations. Atef was killed during U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday declined to comment during a press conference on whether Zubaydah has been detained.
“I don’t think there is any doubt, but a man named Abu Zubaydah is a close associate of UBL’s (Osama bin Laden), and if not the number two, very close to the number two person in the organization. I think that’s well-established,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“I have absolutely nothing to say about the subject, however,” he said.
Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in 1973 in Saudi Arabia, has traveled extensively using numerous aliases and is suspected of having ties to the September 11 attacks on America. He also has been connected to other terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and is said to have been planning new attacks.
Working out of Pakistan, he has been described as a key recruiter for the al Qaeda network and is said to have met with volunteers to arrange travel to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials are holding more than 500 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members who were captured in and near Afghanistan.
Zubaydah’s suspected ties to al Qaeda were first documented by Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted of attempting to carry out a terrorist attack in Los Angeles to coincide with the millennium celebrations in December 1999.
In court testimony in a case related to the millennium plot, Ressam described Zubaydah as “the person in charge” of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. He said he received “young men from all countries he accepts you or rejects you.”
After Ressam graduated from the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan at the end of 1998, he said he checked in again with Zubaydah on the way to Canada. Ressam testified that Zubaydah asked him to acquire Canadian passports for other terrorists to enable them “to carry out operations in the U.S.”