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Assessing another terror arrest

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CNN Terror Analyst Peter Bergen

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(CNN) -- The arrest of Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a significant development in the international war on terrorism.

Peter Bergen, CNN's terror analyst, placed al-Nashiri in an al Qaeda "top 10" of leaders. He spoke with CNN Anchor Martin Savidge about the arrest Thursday.

SAVIDGE: This is a man who is claimed to be a top operative in the Persian Gulf region for al Qaeda, which is, of course, the terrorist network. ... How significant would this arrest be or is this arrest, having him in custody?

BERGEN: He's not in absolute upper echelon of al Qaeda. ... But he is regarded as ... in a sort of top of the second division, as it were. He's been linked to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. He is also regarded as being the mastermind of a foiled plot to attack U.S. warships and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar earlier this year, a plot that was broken up in Morocco.

I don't think it's of earth-shattering significance, but it is of some significance. And we're looking at probably somebody ... who is certainly in the top 10.

SAVIDGE: And what sort of impact does it have on al Qaeda itself? Does it really stump the organization, or do they carry on just as well without him as with him?

BERGEN: If they keep arresting people like al-Nashiri, eventually they [al Qaeda] are going to run out of leaders. ...And eventually, if these arrests keep going at the rate, they will start getting some of the real top people.

SAVIDGE: What is it that U.S. officials want to know from this man right now?

BERGEN: They probably want to know all sorts of things. The question is: Will he speak?

The first question, I guess, they would want to know from him is if he knows where Osama bin Laden and his No. 2 [Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the FBI's most-wanted terror suspects] are located. He may well not know that. They'll also want to get information about the USS Cole attack that killed 17 American sailors and the foiled attack to attack American warships in the Strait of Gibraltar.

SAVIDGE: As far as this arrest, the other arrests that have taken place, does the Bush administration feel confident that they're closing in on the top leadership?

BERGEN: You know, I don't know what their level of confidence is either way. But the fact is that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have been the subject of some intense searching, and they're still at large. And they feel confident [that] both of them have released audiotapes ... calling for more attacks against American economic targets. I think that shows a level of confidence from them.

You know, this is a skirmish in the larger war. It doesn't mean al Qaeda is going out of business just because this guy is being arrested.

SAVIDGE: When they had this man in custody, al-Nashiri, why didn't the United States announce it right away? Why do you think there was this blanket of secrecy placed over the arrest? What was the purpose?

BERGEN: This has been sort of a pattern. There's no upside in immediately announcing that you've arrested somebody, because that tips off other people in the organization that certain operations may be compromised.

SAVIDGE: Have you heard anything from your sources as to where he might have been when he was taken into custody?

BERGEN: All I know is that he was probably in the Persian Gulf area, rather than in Pakistan or Afghanistan.



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