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White House lauds al Qaeda arrests overseas

Fleischer called recent arrests by Saudi and Moroccan authorities "very helpful."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Recent arrests of al Qaeda suspects overseas show "signs of cooperation" between the United States and its allies, the White House said Wednesday.

"This is indeed a multi-front war. And the arrests of people -- whether they are junior, medium, or senior-level of al Qaeda -- all of this is very helpful in keeping would-be killers off the street and planners and organizers off the street," Fleischer told a news briefing.

The most recent arrests were announced in Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

In Morocco, seven people were arrested in connection with an alleged plot to blow up U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar. Also, a senior al Qaeda leader known as "The Bear" was taken into custody.

Abu Zubair al-Haili, a Saudi national, is considered one of the top 25 al Qaeda leaders, according to U.S. officials. He was described as playing a pivotal role in recruiting new al Qaeda members and bringing them to Afghan terror training camps.

Officials said he was a top deputy to Abu Zubaydah, the most senior al Qaeda leader in U.S. custody. Zubaydah is being held at an undisclosed location.

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In Saudi Arabia, authorities Tuesday announced the arrests of 13 people tied to al Qaeda. Seven of them were involved in a failed effort in May to shoot down a U.S. military jet with a shoulder-fired missile at Prince Sultan Air Base.

While the arrests marked the first such action by Saudi Arabia since the September 11 terrorist attacks and President Bush's subsequent call for all nations to crack down on terrorists, the Bush administration had no complaint about Saudi Arabia's action on that front.

"We've been very satisfied and continue to be satisfied with our cooperation with Saudi Arabia with this matter," said State Department spokesman Phil Reeker.

About 2,400 people have been detained worldwide in connection with the terrorism probe.

Their ties to al Qaeda vary, and U.S. officials concede that the very top members of the terrorist network -- starting with mastermind Osama bin Laden -- remain at large.

One of those in custody is Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian who also holds German citizenship. He is being held in Syria, according to U.S. sources, who say he may have recruited September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.

-- CNN correspondents David Ensor and Kelli Arena and producer Pam Benson contributed to this report.




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