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Raids Show al Qaeda Gravitating Towards Pakistani Cities

Aired September 16, 2002 - 10:46   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And now, let's go to Washington now for the very latest on these new developments in the war on terror that we have to report this morning. Word that a key planner of the 9/11 attacks on this country may be leaving Pakistan and may be in U.S. custody.
Let's check in now with our David Ensor who is in Washington now on this -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: My sources, Leon, say that, in fact, he has already left Pakistan and he is already in U.S. custody. They are not willing to say where Ramzi Binalshibh is being held, but they are confirming that he is in U.S. hands and has been moved away from Pakistan. He is not coming to the United States, I understand.

It is possible that he may be held, as Abu Zubaydah has been held, in a country that the U.S. is unwilling to identify, which gives them a certain latitude, and helps with security situations.

One other thing they are saying is that Ramzi Binalshibh is a very, very big fish. He knows a lot about 9/11. He has been, they believe, in touch with senior al Qaeda personnel. He is not, perhaps, in the top four or five of the leadership himself, but he was a key person for the 9/11 attack, knows a lot about it, and has been in touch with the senior people.

Another point that officials are making this morning is that -- they are stressing that the Al-Jazeera interview that Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave to that network, parts of which were broadcast on that network and fragments here on CNN in the last few days, that that, the giving of that interview had nothing to do with their ability -- with the Pakistanis and American ability to capture Binalshibh. They did not follow, for example, the Al-Jazeera reporter. That is not how they got him -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right. Can they say how they did?

ENSOR: That is the kind of thing they don't talk about much. My impression, in talking to officials who were pretty close to this matter, is that the Pakistanis handled the operation with some considerable help from U.S. intelligence in terms of where they might go, where they might look. But more details than that may take a little longer to get.

HARRIS: Understood, understood. Thank you, David.

And let's go to Kelli Arena -- Kelli, not mean to leave you out, we saw you there at the beginning.

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is OK, that is OK. David had pertinent information that he had to get out.

But I can follow up on Binalshibh and what investigators are hoping to get here, is number one, the first full detailed account of the September 11 plot could be provided by Binalshibh, and perhaps even more important than that, is that he would have the most up to date information about the al Qaeda terror network, what is left of it, possible plans for future attacks.

That is of course, if he talks. And that, I am told right now, there has been -- he is not talking. That situation of course, can change, we know that at first, Abu Zubaydah wasn't either, the other al Qaeda operative who is in custody, and he has provided what has been termed "useful" information since he has been in custody.

My sources, of course, match David's in saying that it is -- highly unlikely and probably never going to happen that Binalshibh will come to the United States.

But let's talk about why he is so important. Well, one, he has been -- by his own admission was involved in planning and financing the September 11 hijackings. He was an integral part of the Hamburg, Germany cell that spawned the likes of Mohamed Atta, and in fact, Binalshibh was a roommate of Mohamed Atta's, and we know that he had also tried to enter the United States four times prior to 9/11, and had also tried to get flight training in the United States, which is why investigators believe that he may have intended to be the 20th hijacker.

His efforts to gain entry into the United States were denied each time, and what he did then was he basically provided somebody that handled bank accounts, and he has been one of the most wanted people in connection -- direct connection to the September 11 attacks. For the past year, now, it was known to intelligence that he was hiding out in Pakistan as far as they knew, and ironically enough, a near to the day, on September 11 this year was when he was taken into custody -- Leon.

HARRIS: What I am wondering here now, Kelli, and David, you may have something on this as well, by finding Binalshibh in Pakistan -- ironically enough, on 9/11 of this year, what does the investigators of -- those who are prosecuting this war on terror, what does all this tell us about where al Qaeda is right now, and how many people may still be there in that area?

ENSOR: There is a good chance, Leon, that there are additional senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, and it is interesting to note that now we've seen a number of raids in major Pakistani cities, not up in the frontier area that we reported about quite extensively over the last months...

HARRIS: Exactly.

ENSOR: ... and not in the villages alongside Afghanistan, but in the big, teeming cities of Pakistan like Karachi, which of course is where Danny Pearl died trying to find out more about the connections. There may be a number of al Qaeda people in Karachi itself. I should just mention also Leon, we heard earlier from Andrea Koppel on our air about the second person who has been arrested, who was taken by the Pakistanis in these recent raids as well, and who is of some interest. There does seem to be some difference of opinion among the officials we are talking to as to how important this second person is.

Officials I have spoken to, intelligence officials, say there is one other person besides Ramzi Binalshibh that they do think is of interest, that they think they might learn something from. They do describe him, however, as a relatively small fish, certainly by comparison with Binalshibh, which is probably -- catching him is probably one of the major breakthroughs since 9/11.

HARRIS: Definitely, definitely. David Ensor, Kelli Arena, good work. Thank you very much, folks, appreciate it.

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