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Mastermind { September 15 2002 }

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How police caught up with the 9/11 mastermind

Jason Burke, Ed Helmore in New York and Rory McCarthy in Lahore
Sunday September 15, 2002
The Observer

President Bush hailed a major breakthrough in the year-old 'war on terror' following the capture of a key planner in the 11 September attacks.
'Thanks to the efforts of our folks and people in Pakistan, we captured one of the planners and organisers of the 11 September attacks,' he said. 'One by one we are hunting the killers down. We are relentless, we are strong and we are not going to stop.'

Yesterday's confirmation of the arrest of Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Karachi, Pakistan, almost a year to the hour after the attacks on New York and Washington, will provide a massive boost to the American campaign against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism.

American authorities have also arrested five men believed to be part of a terrorist cell in a quiet suburb of Buffalo, New York.

US officials said the discovery of the cell was linked to last week's decision to raise America's terror alert to 'Code Orange' - the second highest level - on the eve of the 11 September anniversary. The men are believed to have travelled to Afghanistan for terrorist training and British police last night were working to establish if anyone in the UK had facilitated their journey. British Islamic extremists have arranged the passage of hundreds of volunteers, many from America, to the al-Qaeda training camps.

The double success comes at a good time for President George W. Bush.There has been increasing concern at the failure of his administration's effort to locate Osama bin Laden or his close aides. Now, at a symbolic time, one of the men deeply involved in last year's attack has been apprehended.

'He is a very big fish to catch,' said Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism official. 'He certainly was a co-ordinator of the 9/11 operation itself, and he might know some of the people who may still be in the United States if we can get him to talk.'

It is nearly six months since Abu Zubaydah, the last senior al-Qaeda figure to be apprehended, was picked up in Pakistan. News of the arrest of bin al-Shibh, a 30-year-old Yemeni who authorities allege provided money and logistical support to the 11 September hijackers, was leaked from Washington late on Friday and confirmed yesterday by Moinuddin Haider, Pakistan's Interior Minister.

Twelve other Islamic extremists were arrested along with bin al-Shibh, who was a roommate of hijack leader Mohamed Atta in Hamburg and claimed in a recent interview to have spoken to him days before the attacks on Washington and New York. Several policemen were injured in the four-hour firefight on Wednesday morning and two suspected al-Qaeda men were killed.

US and Pakistani sources have hinted that a second 'major' al-Qaeda figure had also been captured although there was no indication of his identity last night.

'[The detainees] are with the intelligence agencies,' Haider said. 'So far, they are with us in Pakistan.' German Interior Minister Otto Schily said yesterday that he will ask for the extradition of bin al-Shibh and American investigators will be keen to interview the men as soon as possible. Bin al-Shibh is thought to know more about the 11 September plot than anyone else.

In America, FBI agents raided several locations on Friday in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, New York. They arrested five Americans of Yemeni descent and removed what appeared to be two AK-47 rifles.

Khalid Qazi, president of the Western New York Chapter of the American Muslim Council, said the raid came after members of the Lackawanna Muslim community tipped off the FBI. The US Justice Department said there was no evidence the men were launching an attack.

Additional reporting by Kate Connolly in Berlin

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