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Officials: Captured man says he's al Qaeda brass

Abu Zubaydah
Abu Zubaydah  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One of the men captured in raids last week in Pakistan has admitted that he is Abu Zubaydah, the operations chief of the al Qaeda terrorist network, U.S. officials said Monday.

If so, he would be the most senior al Qaeda member captured since the September 11 attacks.

One high-level U.S. government source said that it is certain the man is Zubaydah, and other sources -- both U.S. and Pakistani -- said his identity is 90 percent certain. Both governments, however, continue to seek verification.

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

The man believed to be Zubaydah was captured in a series of raids last week. Zubaydah was shot three times by the Pakistanis while trying to escape, officials said.

U.S. officials said their top concern, if the suspect's identity is confirmed, is getting information out of him as quickly as possible. Officials said the man has not been cooperating so far.

They said officials also are discussing whether he should be taken to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, where other suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are detained, or if he should be moved to some other location because of security concerns.

The elusive Zubaydah, 31, is of Palestinian heritage but was born in Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. officials.

Although he does not currently 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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More than 50 people were taken into custody in raids in Lahore and Faisalabad, Pakistan, that netted Pakistanis, Afghans and suspects of other national origins, according to Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan.

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 and is seen as one of Osama bin Laden's key lieutenants.

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.

Born in Saudi Arabia, 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 is 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.

These officials said they are somewhat short of a 100 percent confirmation of Zubaydah's capture. One senior administration official said they "are at about 90 percent" certain, while other U.S. officials expressed more confidence.

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."

Ressam had been arrested after driving across the Canadian border into Washington state with a trunk full of explosive materials and homemade timers.

An official would not say whether DNA testing would be involved in trying to establish the identity of the suspect in custody. He noted, however, that the United States would need DNA samples from a relative for that method to be useful.

The 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.

Americans joined in the Pakistan raids

A Pakistani police spokesman said suspects opened fire during one of the raids, seriously wounding an officer.

The Pakistan raids for al Qaeda suspects were conducted under heavy security and with the reported aid of U.S. operatives.
The Pakistan raids for al Qaeda suspects were conducted under heavy security and with the reported aid of U.S. operatives.  

One of the suspects was killed, the spokesman said, and two more wounded.

About 35 Americans joined the Pakistani police in the operation, and a Pakistani government source said they were FBI operatives. Officials in the U.S. Justice Department declined comment.

But Khan, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman, denied the presence of FBI operatives but said the Americans and Pakistanis shared intelligence.

"The Pakistani forces conducted that operation," Khan said. "Those people [the detainees] are in the custody of Pakistani authorities. They are being interrogated by Pakistani authorities."

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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