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Officials Likely Delayed Info on Hambali Arrest for Security Reasons

Aired August 14, 2003 - 15:16   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Now I want to bring our David Ensor back into the discussion and follow up on that very point.
David, almost every al Qaeda operative around the world now knows Hambali in custody. Maybe they've known it for a day or two. Why keep it quiet? Why is that so time sensitive?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's time sensitive, John, because once they have Hambali in custody and can start questioning him, they may be able to learn about the location of other senior al Qaeda figures or operatives. And they don't want those operatives to know they have Hambali so that they have a chance to get after them with this new fresh information before these guys know that the man who knows where they are has been captured.

So they like to have, whenever possible, 48 hours, 72 hours or more, if they can, between when a capture occurs and when it goes public, to try to make additional captures based on intelligence they may get from Hambali, for example. So that's the thinking behind it.

And by the way, there are a number of officials who've said that the arrests that we've been reporting about the last couple of days in New York of an alleged arms dealer went public too early for them to be able to follow up on information that he might have been able to give them.

Now, that is not nearly as significant a development as this one. Here's a man who really may know where some of the al Qaeda figures, who might want to do harm to Americans, may be. So they wanted to hold off until they had a chance to try to find those others, if they could get information out of Hambali.

KING: And what is your sense from your sources in terms of how organized they think the current al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliated leadership is in the sense that Osama bin Laden, according to most accounts, they don't pick up much traffic from him? Do they think there are several cells operating independently? Do they think there is coordination between these leadership, just through very quiet means?

ENSOR: There does appear to be some coordination. Not much with Osama bin Laden himself, who is maintaining radio silence, shall we say, believed to be somewhere along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and not transmitting messages except, perhaps, by courier from time to time. But some of these other figures, people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for awhile and Hambali until recently, have clearly been trying to organize additional attacks and with some success. They have been communicating with others, and some of that communication has been monitored by the United States.

KING: In the early weeks and even months after September 11, the Bush administration was praising President Arroyo of the Philippines for her help in tracking down al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Southeast Asia. There was quite a bit of grumbling about President Megawati of Indonesia, saying she did not appear to have the will to do as much as the administration had hoped.

Any sense from your sources, in recent weeks has that changed? Is this proof, perhaps, that the administration is getting more cooperation out of the government of Indonesia?

ENSOR: Well, it may be. But we do not know whether or not Hambali was captured in Indonesia or by Indonesians. It's possible, he travels a fair amount. He was in Malaysia; he was in Pakistan, in the Philippines. It's possible it may have been some other location.

One thing I can tell you, the officials that I've spoken to so far are very much hoping that word of where this capture took place will not come out in the public media anytime soon. The country in question does not want publicity.

KING: David Ensor, our national security correspondent, I ask you to stand by.

You're seeing now a live picture of President Bush walking across the tarmac just off Air Force One at the Miramar Air Station in southern California.

Mr. Bush himself will in just a few moments, about ten minutes from now, discuss the breaking story we are covering this afternoon, the arrest of what the White House says is a key figure, known by the name of Hambali. A key al Qaeda operative, a key terrorist in southeast Asia believed to be responsible for the Bali bombing, a key operative in al Qaeda, as well, and that most recent terrorist attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Again, President Bush to discuss what he views as a significant breakthrough in the global war on terrorism. You see him shaking hands here on the ground at this marine air station. We'll take a quick break.


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