- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Pakistan yesterday turned over to U.S. authorities a self-professed organizer of the September 11 terrorist attacks, who President Bush said aspired "to be the 20th bomber," and four other al Qaeda suspects arrested last week.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested that the capture of Ramzi Binalshibh "sends a message to other terrorists" and will give U.S. authorities valuable information during interrogation at an undisclosed location.
"An awful lot of the ones we pick up do," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "They provide it by whatever they have in or around them, the people that were with them, what they say, what they don't say, how they handle themselves."
The handover took place after a Pakistani official said police were investigating whether some of those arrested with Binalshibh were involved in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was abducted in Karachi in January.
If a link is established, it would be the first evidence that al Qaeda was involved in Mr. Pearl's abduction and killing.
Mr. Bush crowed about the capture of Binalshibh while addressing workers at a manufacturing plant in Davenport, Iowa.
"He thought he could hide," Mr. Bush said. "He thought he could still threaten America. But he forgot the greatest nation on the face of the Earth is after them, one person at a time."
Binalshibh and four underlings were captured Wednesday the anniversary of the September 11 attacks after intelligence received by the FBI prompted a raid on a Karachi apartment block where the suspected terrorists were holed up. The capture followed a fierce, three-hour gunbattle in which two other terrorists were killed.
The men were held in Pakistan until yesterday, when they were flown out of the country and turned over to the United States. Administration officials declined to say where Binalshibh was being held or whether he would be brought to America.
"We got him," a senior administration official told The Washington Times. "But as to who has him and where he is, we're just not talking about it."
It was considered the most significant arrest since March, when one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants, Abu Zubaydah, was arrested in Pakistan.
The FBI had evidence that Binalshibh shared a room in Hamburg, Germany, with Mohamed Atta, believed to have been the leader of the hijackers, and was a key aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to have been a top planner of the attacks.
Binalshibh boasted of his role in planning the attacks during an interview in Karachi with the Arab satellite TV station Al Jazeera. The interview was broadcast last week, but the station said it was taped in June.
Authorities were eager to learn as much as possible from Binalshibh.
"This is somebody that we want to talk to," the senior official said. "Every indication is that he was involved in the planning for 9/11 and is somebody that's involved in al Qaeda and terrorist planning.
"By breaking up these al Qaeda cells and getting our hands on these al Qaeda members, our top priority is to obtain information from them that will help prevent future attacks," the official added. "That information can take many forms either plans for future attacks or leads as to other al Qaeda members."
Among those captured during raids last week and since handed over to U.S. custody was Umar al-Gharib, a brother of al Qaeda leader Tawfiq Attash Khallad, a U.S. defense official in Washington said on the condition of anonymity. Khallad is thought to be one of the masterminds of the deadly October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.
Though not a leader in al Qaeda, al-Gharib may have valuable information, the official said.
German prosecutors believe Binalshibh, 30, was meant to be the fourth suicide pilot in the attacks on the United States. After he was refused a U.S. visa, he instead arranged payments to American flight schools and made frequent organizational trips.
"After his exclusion as the fourth pilot, Binalshibh became the most significant contact person inside the network," chief German prosecutor Kay Nehm told reporters in August.
Mr. Rumsfeld characterized the capture of Binalshibh as a significant blow to al Qaeda.
"The more of these people that are rolled up and put in jail and interrogated, the more difficult it is to recruit, the more difficult it is to retain people, the more difficult it is to raise money, the more difficult it is to transfer money, the more difficult it is for those folks to move between countries, the more careful they have to be in everything they do," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
It was not clear whether the four militants handed over with Binalshibh were the ones Pakistani police suspected were linked to Mr. Pearl's slaying. Mr. Pearl's dismembered body was found in May in a shallow grave in Karachi.
Four Pakistani militants, including British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed, were convicted in Mr. Pearl's abduction, though those who carried out the American's killing have not been arrested. Saeed was sentenced to death by hanging, and the others received life sentences.
Pakistani police said they were led to Mr. Pearl's grave by three men who had been detained but never charged. The government has never confirmed they are holding the three.
The senior official said the Bush administration had not yet decided Binalshibh's ultimate destination. Potential sites include the United States, a U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or a military base in Afghanistan.
Mr. Rumsfeld said it was not clear whether the administration would seek to classify Binalshibh as a prisoner of war, which would make him eligible for certain protections under the Geneva Convention.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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