- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

A senior al Qaeda operations chief held by Moroccan authorities in connection with a conspiracy to bomb American and British warships is being questioned about other al Qaeda terrorism plans, U.S. law enforcement authorities said yesterday.
Abu Zubair al-Haili, a Saudi Arabian arrested last week by Moroccan police, also is being asked about the identities and whereabouts of al Qaeda operatives, or cell members, authorities said.
U.S. intelligence officials have access to information from al-Haili, who is being interrogated by Moroccan officials, although they do not have direct access to the suspected terrorist, authorities said.
Described as a close associate of Abu Zubaydah, the senior al Qaeda operational manager and key recruiter captured in March in Pakistan, al-Haili is believed to possess a vast amount of information about pending al Qaeda operations and the identity of cell members in this country and overseas.
Authorities said al-Haili was responsible for recruiting would-be terrorists, arranging for their training at camps in Afghanistan and elsewhere and placing them in terrorist cells worldwide.
"Al-Haili is of interest to us and there is reason to believe that he has information that could be helpful in the prevention of any future terrorist attacks," said one U.S. official.
Zubaydah, a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who also has been identified as a major recruiter for the al Qaeda network, already has provided information to U.S. officials about pending al Qaeda operations including data that led to the arrest of "dirty bomb" suspect Abdullah al Muhajir, also known as Jose Padilla.
Al-Haili, known as "The Bear" because of his 300-pound weight, is being held by Moroccan authorities on charges of plotting attacks against U.S. and British interests in Morocco, including warships crossing the Straits of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain.
The Moroccan Justice Ministry said in a statement that al-Haili was among several Saudis arrested in the case. Last week, three Saudi nationals, accused of being al Qaeda members, were formally charged in Saudi Arabia in connection with the bombing plot.
Moroccan officials said the suspects had planned to sail a small boat loaded with explosives from Morocco into the strait to attack the vessels. The plot's ringleader, who remains at large, was identified by Moroccan authorities as Abu al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who has been tied to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
In the al Qaeda hierarchy, al-Haili is thought to have been one of only eight operational chiefs all of whom reported directly to bin Laden. Considered among al Qaeda's top 20 operational commanders, he is the second-highest-ranking leader in the terrorist organization to be taken into custody since the September 11 attacks, behind only Zubaydah.
Al-Haili, according to authorities, established and operated some of bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. He also is believed to have helped al Qaeda members escape Afghanistan after U.S. military operations in that country.
It is not clear how the veteran al Qaeda operative got to Morocco, and details of his arrest are sketchy. But his arrest is considered by U.S. intelligence officials a major break in the war on terrorism.
Meanwhile, a German citizen of Syrian descent believed to have recruited September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is in custody in Syria, law enforcement officials said. Mohammed Haydar Zammar, 41, is being questioned by Syrian authorities, although the information is being made available to U.S. officials, the sources said.
Several of the hijackers who crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania lived in Hamburg, Germany, and have been identified as members of an al Qaeda terrorist cell.
Atta was named as the pilot on American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the World Trade Center's north tower. Al-Shehhi was identified as the pilot on United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the World Trade Center's south tower. Jarrah was named as the pilot on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.


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