- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

The capture in Pakistan of a key leader of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was described yesterday by the White House as "a very serious blow" to the international terrorist organization named in the September 11 attacks on America.
Abu Zubaydah, identified as a major al Qaeda recruiter and a suspect in the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was among more than three dozen suspected terrorists rounded up March 28 in raids in Faisalabad, Lahore and Multan and turned over to U.S. authorities.
Zubaydah's arrest last week was followed yesterday with the detention by Pakistani police of at least 16 other Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis taken into custody in the latest in a series of raids against suspected al Qaeda hide-outs.
Islamic groups in Pakistan have long been suspected of helping Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives sneak into the country after the fall of Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities say they expect more arrests in the coming days.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer described Zubaydah as a member of bin Laden's inner circle and said he served as al Qaeda's "operational planner." Mr. Fleischer said President Bush was satisfied with the capture.
"The individual we believe to be Abu Zubaydah was found at one of the locations originally targeted in the Pakistani raids," Mr. Fleischer said. "He was shot several times as he attempted to escape the raided compound. He is currently receiving medical attention.
"This represents a very serious blow to al Qaeda," he said, noting that U.S. intelligence officials believe Zubaydah should be able to provide information on plans for future attacks..
Zubaydah is the highest-ranking al Qaeda member in U.S. custody an intelligence and public relations coup for an administration that promised to bring to justice bin Laden and others responsible for the September 11 attacks.
Only four top al Qaeda operatives, including Zubaydah, have been arrested. Nine others, including Mohammed Atef, bin Laden's military commander, have been killed. U.S. authorities said Zubaydah faces a possible prosecution before a special U.S. military tribunal.
Zubaydah would be only the second person to be named in the September 11 attacks, if charges are brought. The government is seeking the death penalty against Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French Moroccan arrested in August after flight instructors in Minnesota became suspicious of him.
Mr. Fleischer declined during a press briefing yesterday to discuss where Zubaydah is being held because of "security reasons," although newspapers in Pakistan said he had been taken to Jacobabad, where U.S. military authorities are using a Pakistani air base for logistics support.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters that as a top lieutenant for bin Laden, Zubaydah "has been intimately involved in a range of activities for the al Qaeda."
"There is no question that having an opportunity to visit with him is helpful," Mr. Rumsfeld said, adding that "sometimes I understate for emphasis."
Mr. Fleischer said that the Pakistani raid that resulted in Zubaydah's capture was directed and carried out by Pakistani authorities, but that U.S. officials had supported the operation. Law enforcement authorities said that U.S. officials supplied intelligence information, and that FBI and CIA officers were present when the raids took place.
U.S. officials have said that after the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, Zubaydah appears to have replaced 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.
Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in 1973 in Saudi Arabia, has traveled extensively and has been connected to other terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. He is said to have been planning new attacks.
His suspected ties to al Qaeda were first documented by Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted in a foiled terrorist attack in Los Angeles, which had been aimed to coincide with the millennium celebrations in December 1999.
In court testimony, Ressam described Zubaydah as "the person in charge" of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. He said after he graduated from the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan in 1998, Zubaydah asked him to acquire passports for other terrorists to enable them "to carry out operations in the U.S."


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