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Ensor: Al-Nashiri an explosives expert

CNN Correspondent David Ensor
CNN Correspondent David Ensor

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic (CNN) -- Al Qaeda Persian Gulf operations chief Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri is in U.S. custody after being captured earlier this month in an undisclosed country, authorities told CNN Thursday.

He is the alleged mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in the fall of 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

CNN's National Security Correspondent David Ensor, who is traveling with President Bush in Prague, talked with Anchor Miles O'Brien about al-Nashiri's background.

ENSOR: Miles, some sketchy details are beginning to come out now from U.S. officials here and elsewhere about al-Nashiri. As you said, he's considered a major player in the attack on the USS Cole.

In fact, officials tell us that he is a military explosives expert and was the designer of the explosives in that small craft that was used to attack the USS Cole. He's also considered to have been the top operational planner in the whole Arabian Peninsula. He was based in Yemen, we are told.

He is, however, a Saudi-born individual, born in Mecca, believed to be in his 30s. And he fought in Afghanistan against the Russians as a very young man. So he's a battle-hardened supporter of al Qaeda. A very senior man.

Officials are telling me that they wanted to try and keep this name from coming out for as long as possible. I asked, "Will it hurt that the name is out? Will that hurt any of the investigations that you are undertaking?" And an official said, "Yes, it will."

But once the word is out, officials are prepared to confirm it. And they are confirming this is the man -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Give us a sense, then, of how much this might hurt things. In the sense that, obviously if he's in custody he's either going to talk or he isn't going to talk. Is there some concern this might impact other members of al Qaeda still at [large]?

ENSOR: Yes. I mean I do understand, by the way, that he is cooperating in some ways, although officials are very cagey about how much they want to say on that.

Here's how it would work. Let's say that you're an al Qaeda senior person and you're on the run. And you know that only two or three people know where you are, and one of them is al-Nashiri. And you know that -- you knew last week that the Americans had a senior al Qaeda person, but you didn't know which one. So you don't know whether to change locations or not. Well, now you know -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Very good point. Thank you very much, David Ensor.

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