Sources: Top al Qaeda operative captured
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the al Qaeda operatives most wanted by the U.S. government, has been captured and is in the hands of Pakistani authorities, U.S. government officials told CNN Friday.
Binalshibh is believed to have played a direct role in planning the September 11 terrorist hijackings. In an audio message played Thursday on the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera, Binalshibh said he had hoped to be one of the hijackers but could not obtain an entry visa into the United States.
In that interview, Binalshibh said he and other al Qaeda followers were elated when they watched the news of the hijacked planes slamming into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
"The brothers shouted Allah Akbar! Thanks to God and cried," he said in the Al-Jazeera interview.
The network said the taped interview was made in Karachi, Pakistan.
The U.S. officials would not elaborate further about the capture. White House and intelligence officials declined comment.
But in January, when the FBI named Binalshibh as a man they were looking for, Attorney General John Ashcroft told CNN's Larry King, "he's an individual we care deeply about. He tried come to the United States three times and we believe it could well have been that he wanted to be the 20th hijacker.
"He was denied a visa, but we've alleged in our indictment of Moussauoi that he -- and we have him as -- this individual is an unindicted co-conspirator. We've alleged his involvement in helping facilitate and finance the hijackings."
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told CNN Friday that Pakistani authorities conducted an operation two days ago that netted 10 al Qaeda suspects, including an "important" person, although he could not confirm it was Binalshibh.
"They were living in a residential area. The place was raided and there was a shootout," Musharraf said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "Two of the al Qaeda members were killed and 10 arrested."
"We are going to interrogate them. Obviously there's a procedure, there's a process of interrogation known to all the intelligence agencies and we cooperate on this, and then we declare them white or black. But since there was a shootout, there's no doubt that they are al Qaeda members."
He said seven Pakistani troops were wounded in the shooting.
Musharraf said the 10 captured al Qaeda suspects include one Egyptian, one Saudi and eight Yemenis.
Authorities have said Binalshibh, a Yemeni national who belonged to the al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, played a major role in planning the attacks. He was a roommate at one point of lead hijacker Mohammed Atta and two other September 11 hijackers.
U.S. authorities have said they believe Binalshibh was to be on one of the hijacked planes, but he couldn't obtain a U.S. visa to enter the country -- statements Binalshibh confirmed on Al-Jazeera.
In the Al-Jazeera interview, Binalshibh said Atta called him the morning of the attacks. "He said, 'Two sticks, a dash and a cake with a stick down.' As it turns out, two sticks is the number 11, and a dash is a dash and a cake with a stick down is the number 9. And that was September 11," Binalshibh said.
A German security official said Friday that al Qaeda members met in mid-June, 1999, at an "Islamic seminar" in Amsterdam. That meeting was attended by hijackers Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ramsi Binalshibh.
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