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U.S. wants Sept. 11 suspect

Ramzi Binalshibh was a roommate of September 11 hijack leader Mohammed Atta  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials are eager to question an al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan to learn more about last year's September 11 attacks, and would like to have custody of him, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

He is one of two recently arrested al Qaeda operatives, neither of whom Pakistani officials have identified, but U.S. officials said the man is Ramzi Binalshibh. He was captured after a shootout during two raids in Karachi, Pakistan, on Wednesday -- one year to the day after the attacks killed more than 3,000 people in the United States.

"We certainly want custody of him," Reuters quoted Rice as saying.

No decisions on extradition requests will be made until the Pakistani investigation is completed, Pakistani Foreign Minister Inam ul-Haq said Saturday.

CNN's Kelli Arena reports on the capture of Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan and his suspected role in the 9/11 hijackings (September 13)

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CNN's Sheila MacVicar says newly released tapes reportedly have two top lieutenants of Osama bin Laden discussing the 9/11 hijackings (September 12)

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 Profile: Ramzi Binalshibh
  • Born: May 1, 1972 in Hadramawt, Yemen
  • Warrants issued in Germany for murder conspiracy and terrorism charges
  • Described in a documentary by the Arabic TV news network Al-Jazeera as the "coordinator of the September 11 operation"

    Source: Interpol
    Ramzi Binalshibh 
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    "We'll conduct our investigations, and we'll be discussing all the aspects of the situation with our allies in the international coalition against terrorism. We have arrested a few people in Karachi, as you know," the foreign minister said at the United Nations, where he is attending meetings of the General Assembly.

    "I can't really tell you the names of all these people. We are conducting investigations into their intent ... and also to see what other connections with al Qaeda and any other terrorist organizations. At this stage, that is all I can tell you."

    From his retreat in Camp David, Maryland, President Bush said Saturday: "Yesterday, thanks to the efforts of our folks and people in Pakistan, we captured one of the planners and organizers of the September 11 attack that murdered thousands of people."

    "One by one, we're hunting the killers down. We are relentless. We are strong. We're not going to stop," Bush added.

    Speaking to CNN Friday, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said 10 al Qaeda suspects had been arrested in Wednesday's raids, including an "important" person, although he did not name him as Binalshibh.

    He said the 10 included one Egyptian, one Saudi and eight Yemenis. Two other al Qaeda suspects were killed in the operations, Musharraf added.

    Although Pakistan has given few details on the arrest, officials in Islamabad and Washington have both called Binalshibh's capture a significant development in fighting the al Qaeda threat.

    The arrest follows dozens of raids across the country over the past months as security forces attempt to track down al Qaeda members who are believed to have crossed into Pakistan following the fall of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.

    To date, officials say, over 400 arrests have been made, although Binalshibh is by far the most prominent al Qaeda member captured to date.

    If he decides to talk, experts say, he could provide important details about the planning and financing of last year's attacks.

    Binalshibh has also been linked to at least one post September 11 attack -- on a synagogue in Tunisia blamed on al Qaeda gunmen.

    Hoped to be hijacker

    In a taped interview played Thursday on the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera, Binalshibh acknowledged playing a key role in the planning of the hijackings and selecting targets.

    He said he had originally hoped to be one of the hijackers but could not obtain an entry visa into the United States.

    In the interview, Binalshibh said he and other al Qaeda followers were elated when they watched news coverage 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 told Al-Jazeera.

    The network said the taped interview was recorded in Karachi but did not indicate when.

    In January, when the FBI named Binalshibh as a man they were looking for, Attorney General John Ashcroft told CNN's Larry King he was one of the most wanted al Qaeda operatives.

    "He tried to come to the United States three times and we believe it could well have been that he wanted to be the 20th hijacker," Ashcroft said.

    Hamburg cell

    At least 10 al Qaeda suspects were arrested during Wednesday's raids in Karachi
    At least 10 al Qaeda suspects were arrested during Wednesday's raids in Karachi  

    U.S. counterterrorism officials say Binalshibh was a member of the al Qaeda cell based in Hamburg, Germany, that first began to lay the groundwork for the September 11 attacks.

    German authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest right after the attacks in September, but he disappeared in Pakistan.

    At one point he was a roommate of hijack leader Mohammed Atta, the hijacker who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center.

    According to U.S. investigators he later sent money to at least two of the hijackers -- Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi.

    During the Al-Jazeera interview, Binalshibh also recalled an early morning phone call on August 29 2001 from Atta with a coded message setting the final date for the hijackings.

    "He said a friend of mine gave me a puzzle and I want you to help me out," Binalshibh was heard to say.

    He went on: "I said to him: is this the time for puzzles, Mohammed? He said: yes I know, but no one else but you could help me. He said: 2 sticks, a dash and a cake with a stick down. What is it? I said: did you wake me up just to tell me this?

    "As it turns out, 2 sticks is the number 11, a dash is a dash and a cake with a stick down is the number 9. And that was September 11."

    Kelli Arena CNN Washington Bureau and CNN Islamabad Bureau Chief Ash-har Quraishi contributed to this report




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