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Captured Terrorist Suspect Was Link to Southeast Asian Operations

Aired August 14, 2003 - 15:05   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Want to turn now and bring in national security correspondent, David Ensor.
David, Hambali now in custody at an undisclosed location. How can the United States learn from him? We have been hearing every day of potential threats, this plot in Saudi Arabia, allegedly. What will they be looking for from this gentleman?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, there will be a race against time right now, John, by the interrogators to try to get what they can get in the short term to save lives out of this particular new captive.

There's a well-established series of protocols and techniques that are used to interrogate these senior al Qaeda figures at this point. And it's not that something they talk about publicly at all.

However, there will be an initial effort to get what they can out of him, if he is willing to be cooperative, and then there will be a longer term effort to interrogate him over the months and years to come.

Now, U.S. officials won't discuss their techniques, as I said. They say that -- sort of direct torture and some of those kinds of techniques that may be used in other countries are not used by U.S. officials. But there are various ways of convincing people who are not going to be allowed to go anywhere and they know that, to talk. And U.S. officials say that ultimately, all of these al Qaeda figures have been useful in one way or another eventually.

Obviously, as I say, there's a race against time now to trying to find out what he may know about upcoming attacks that could happen in the coming days -- John.

KING: And help our viewers understand where he would rank currently, if you will. The administration makes the case that it has dismantled much of the senior leadership of al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden, of course, still unaccounted for, his number two unaccounted for, but Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, others in custody. How would it rank? How big of a fish do they have here?

ENSOR: This is a pretty big fish, John. Not up with the top two, but one official said that he thought that this was the biggest capture by the United States since the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the then operations chief of al Qaeda. There is Saif al-Athele (ph) to consider. Some say that he is the currently operations chief, but there have been reports that he may be in the custody of Iranian officials or in any case, in Iran and in somebody's hands. We really don't know at this point.

Hambali would be sort of at the top of the second tier, in the view of most officials that I've spoken to. But he's a very key figure in the operations of al Qaeda because, as Maria Ressa was saying, visibility to cross lines, to live in two worlds, to have contacts with the sort of Arab leadership of al Qaeda in Pakistan and elsewhere and to lead efforts in Asia and Indonesia and elsewhere to attack targets there.

So this is a sort of pivotal figure and a very important catch.

KING: And we don't know much -- deliberately because the administration doesn't want to us know much -- about the circumstances of the arrests yet even where it took place, just earlier this week, we are being told.

But can you help us understand the significance? We assume this was in Southeast Asia. We are told by sources it involved cooperation in that region. Al Qaeda evicted, essentially, from Afghanistan, looking for a place around the world to have a headquarters?

ENSOR: Absolutely. They've scattered to the four winds, though, and they are operating from a variety of different places.

Their ability to operate has been greatly diminished by closing down Afghanistan as a sanctuary and by going after some of these other figures, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, some of the others who are now prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency at some undisclosed location outside the United States.

These men are telling what they know, ultimately, and that's very, very helpful, indeed. But notice that the attacks still continue. This war on terrorism has not been won by either side. There are wins periodically, battles are won by one side or the other. We've seen recent attacks by al Qaeda, and officials do expect more, whether or not they catch the Hambalis of the world.

KING: David Ensor, we're going to ask you to both stay with us and work your sources. We're going to take a quick break here as we continue to follow this breaking news.

A quick recap, a suspect, man known as Hambali, blamed by the United States and other governments for the terrorist bombing in Bali. Also for the more recent attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. A key al Qaeda leader, the Bush administration says, now in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, captured earlier this week.

The White House calling this a significant victory in the global war on terrorism. President Bush himself due to arrive in southern California about 20 minutes from now. We will hear from the president then. We will carry those remarks live. Stay with us. We'll be right back. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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