- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

U.S. intelligence officers captured a self-proclaimed organizer of the September 11 terrorist attacks in Pakistan on Wednesday and have arrested five members of a suspected terrorist cell in the suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y.
Ramzi Binalshibh, the former roommate of hijacker Mohamed Atta who is suspected of planning to participate in the hijackings, was captured in Pakistan nearly a year after he became one of the United States' top terror targets, U.S. officials said.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Binalshibh was captured earlier this week in a joint raid by Pakistani forces and U.S. intelligence officers in the southern coastal city of Karachi. The raid ended in a deadly shootout.
Separately, officials said five men of Yemeni descent, most believed to be American citizens, were arrested in Lackawanna, outside Buffalo, on suspicions they were operating as a terrorist cell on U.S. soil. Justice Department officials plan to announce the arrests today in Washington.
A senior government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Justice Department plans to charge the men with providing material support and resources to terrorists.
U.S. officials said the discovery of the cell was connected to information that also prompted the Bush administration to raise the United States' terror alert to "code orange" the second-highest on the eve of the September 11 anniversary.
Binalshibh's capture was a major coup for U.S. authorities, who have searched for him for months. Officials said he was not wounded during the capture, but declined to discuss his whereabouts or whether he was providing information to authorities.
Before September 11, Binalshibh was frustrated in his attempts to receive a visa to enter the United States in 2000. Instead, U.S. officials say, he provided financial support to the other 19 hijackers.
Binalshibh, 30, was born in Yemen. He was being sought by the German government for his role in the September 11 attacks.
He is considered an aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the September 11 suicide hijackings that left more than 3,000 dead, officials said. Officials declined to discuss his whereabouts or whether he was providing information to authorities.
To catch him, police commandos fought a pitched battle with al Qaeda suspects holed up in an apartment Wednesday, with combat spilling onto adjoining rooftops, officials said. They said two suspects were killed and five captured in the fighting as Pakistan stepped up pressure on the remnants of the terrorist movement a year after it made its mark on the world.
Six officers were wounded when police stormed the top-floor apartment and the rooftop where the gunmen held out against hundreds of troops in the street and on the roofs of nearby apartment blocks, they said. Two of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition.
Police said one of the dead militants and one of those arrested were Arabs, but their nationalities were not known. The rest were Afghans.
U.S. personnel were not hurt in the raid, officials said.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told United Press International yesterday that one Egyptian, one Saudi and eight Yemenis were captured in the raid.
The Arab satellite network Al Jazeera ran a taped interview with Binalshibh on Thursday, in which he said he helped coordinate the attacks.
He also appeared in a videotape recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the home of al Qaeda's slain military chief, Mohammed Atef.
According to the U.S. grand jury indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui, purported to be a conspirator in the September 11 attacks, Binalshibh applied four times for a visa to enter the United States from May to October 2000, but was rebuffed each time.
After being denied a visa for the third time, Binalshibh is said to have begun funneling money to associates in the United States. He wired money to Moussaoui, to at least two hijackers and to a Florida flight school at which one of the hijackers was training, the indictment said.
Authorities believe that Binalshibh fled Germany for Pakistan before September 11. German authorities had issued an international arrest warrant for Binalshibh, whose whereabouts until now were unknown.
A correspondent for the pan-Arab satellite station Al Jazeera said he interviewed Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed at a secret location in Pakistan. The men admitted to being central figures in the September 11 plot and said the U.S. Congress had been another target that day.
In the broadcast Thursday, Al Jazeera aired audio excerpts of the interview in which two male voices attributed to Mohammed and Binalshibh revealed details about the buildup to the September 11 attacks.
The voice purported to be Binalshibh's said the hijackers were instructed to take over the planes 15 minutes after takeoff. "That was the best time, and they were very brave," he said.
Two other members of the Hamburg cell, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, died in the suicide hijackings. Two additional members of the Hamburg cell did not take part in the hijackings and are still at large.
In the Buffalo case, the officials said the men were on U.S. soil for years and lived just a few blocks from one another, but were discovered through a recent investigation and intelligence suggesting they were part of a terrorist cell.
The evidence included a recent spike in communications with suspected terrorist locations overseas and some evidence of attending a terror-training camp linked to Osama bin Laden, the officials said.
One senior government official said one of the men arrested in Buffalo is linked to Omar al-Farouq, a senior al Qaeda figure captured in Asia during the summer who has provided his interrogators specific information suggesting that terror cells in the region were planning attacks on U.S. facilities, the sources said.
The official did not say how the two were associated.
The official said the information provided by al-Farouq that led to the higher alert does not stop with the five men arrested in Buffalo.
The capture of Binalshibh was first reported by ABC News, and the apprehensions of the suspects in the Buffalo area was initially reported by CBS News.

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