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White House hails bin Laden aide's capture

Abu Zubaydah
Abu Zubaydah  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Calling it a "very serious blow to al Qaeda," the White House on Tuesday celebrated the capture of one of Osama bin Laden's key lieutenants but refused to disclose where the man is being held.

Abu Zubaydah, 31, is the most senior al Qaeda member captured since the September 11 attacks. Sources had spoken of Zubaydah's capture last week in Pakistan, but Tuesday's comments from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer marked the Bush administration's first public confirmation on the matter.

"We believe that one of the individuals captured by Pakistani authorities in recent days is Abu Zubaydah, who as you know is a key terrorist recruiter and operational planner and a member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle," Fleischer said.

The suspect has been turned over to the United States by Pakistan, a high-level U.S. source said. Another source said he is no longer in Pakistan.

Pakistani police said Tuesday they had arrested six more Afghan men in overnight raids in the eastern city of Lahore. All are suspected of having links to bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

Since Thursday, more than 50 people -- including Pakistanis, Afghans and others -- have been taken into custody in raids in Lahore and Faisalabad, according to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.

Zubaydah was captured last week in Faisalabad, and Pakistanis fired at him while he was trying to flee, officials said.

"He was shot several times as he attempted to escape the raid in the compound," Fleischer said. "He is currently receiving medical attention. For security reasons, we are not going to discuss his location. He will be interrogated about his knowledge of ongoing plans to conduct terrorist activities."

U.S. officials said their top concern is getting information out of him as quickly as possible. Officials said the man has not been cooperating so far.

Although he does not face criminal charges in the United States and is not on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists, he was one of a dozen individuals listed on President Bush's September 24 executive order freezing assets of supporters of terrorism.

Zubaydah is charged in connection with a bomb plot in Jordan.

An expert at disguises?

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Zubaydah is considered the operational coordinator of the al Qaeda terrorist network. For years, he has been in charge of recruiting, training and travel for al Qaeda, officials said.

His capture would be valuable since he is suspected of continuing to plan further terrorist attacks and of being responsible for establishing al Qaeda cells around the world.

His full name is Zayn al-Abidn Muhammed Hasayn Abu Zubaydah. He is of Palestinian heritage but was born in Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. officials.

He speaks English and is considered an expert at disguises, skilled at remaining out of sight for years at a time, U.S. officials said.

Officials said establishing his identity has been difficult because there are only a few known photos of Zubaydah. They said they believe he has recently changed his hair and put on weight to avoid being identified.

Linked to attempted 1999 attack

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted last year of plotting to detonate a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport in 1999, said during his trial that he had contacted Zubaydah when he reached Pakistan.

"He is the person in charge of the [training] camps," Ressam said at the 2001 trial. "He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. And he takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving."

An official said Zubaydah is third on the list of al Qaeda leaders whom the United States would most like to have in custody. Bin Laden is "No. 1," he said, followed by Ayman Zawahiri -- bin Laden's deputy.

-- Islamabad Bureau Chief Ash-Har Quraishi, State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.




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