- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Information obtained from self-professed September 11 organizer Ramzi Binalshibh indicates al Qaeda has decentralized its leadership structure, making it more dangerous, according to U.S. officials.
Terrorist cells now have more autonomy to conduct attacks around the world, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"The decentralization means the danger from this group is growing," said one U.S. intelligence official.
One of the al Qaeda militants arrested last week with Binalshibh in Pakistan has been identified as one of the killers of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, a senior Pakistani police official told the Associated Press yesterday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, refused to identify the suspect but said he was not among the five persons, including Binalshibh, who were handed over to U.S. authorities Monday and flown out of the country.
If true, it would be the first evidence linking al Qaeda to Mr. Pearl's abduction and killing. Mr. Pearl was kidnapped in January while investigating links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami after explosives were found in his shoes.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni national now in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, and the other suspects were arrested in two raids last week in the port city of Karachi, which has long been suspected as a hide-out for al Qaeda and Taliban figures who fled Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said the capture of Binalshibh, 30, who aided September 11 organizer Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, represents a major step in efforts to roll up the network that is said to operate in small cells of terrorists in up to 60 nations.
U.S. intelligence agencies have estimated that as many as 5,000 al Qaeda members may be operating inside the United States. Five Americans of Yemeni descent were arrested last week near Buffalo and charged with supporting a terrorist organization.
Yesterday, an FBI agent said two remaining members of that suspected al Qaeda-trained terror cell in western New York are believed to be in Yemen. On Monday, Mukhtar al-Bakri, 22, a Yemeni-born American arrested in Bahrain last week, was charged with conspiring to provide support or resources to foreign terrorists.
U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder entered a not-guilty plea for al-Bakri and ordered him held until a bail hearing today with five other men arrested last week during raids in Lackawanna, a suburb of Buffalo. The others are Shafal Mosed, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25.
While in western New York, the suspects attended lectures by a "religious group" before going overseas, where they were lectured by Osama bin Laden, said Special Agent Peter Ahearn, who heads the FBI's Buffalo office.
Al-Bakri's lawyer, John Molloy, yesterday questioned the strength of the government's case.
"The complaint charged is aiding a terrorist organization," he said. "I don't know what that means. The strength of their case might be impaired if there are no specific acts that they think are imminent."
Federal authorities have said they had no evidence of any attacks planned by the cell.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Yemen is the ancestral homeland of bin Laden and that many of his sympathizers and followers are Yemeni nationals. It also was the site of the al Qaeda bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor in October 2000.
A second U.S. official, who declined to comment on information obtained from Binalshibh, said the decentralization of al Qaeda makes it more difficult for the group to operate, "but the capability to strike is there."
"The organization and leadership [of al Qaeda] out of necessity has become more decentralized in an effort to make the group less vulnerable," the official said. "They have pushed decision-making downward so that orders for attacks don't necessarily have to come from the top."
Attorney General John Ashcroft said last week in announcing a heightened alert status that "widely dispersed, unsophisticated strikes" by lower-level al Qaeda operatives are a danger.
U.S. intelligence agencies are hoping Binalshibh will provide clues to the locations of Mohammed and other top al Qaeda leaders and believe he would have been among the 19 hijackers had he not been denied a visa to enter the United States several times.
"Binalshibh is one of the few people still alive who would have detailed information about the September 11 attacks," a U.S. official said.
Before September 11, Binalshibh was involved in planning terrorist operations and helping with the logistics of terrorist attacks, including funding operations, U.S. officials said. He also was involved in recruiting Islamic radicals to join al Qaeda.
"This guy is a big fish," one official said.
Meanwhile, officials have identified two key aides to bin Laden as the most active plotters of several recent al Qaeda attacks. They are Mohammed the September 11 organizer and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Mohammed is one of al Qaeda's most senior leaders who is on the run. Al-Nashiri is chief of al Qaeda's operations in the Persian Gulf region. Both are among about two dozen al Qaeda leaders being sought by U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement officials.
Mohammed has been linked by counterterrorism officials to the April 11 suicide bombing in Tunisia that killed 19 persons, mostly tourists, and the bombing in June of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking recently on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that Mohammed is "the most significant operational player out there right now."

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