by Walter Pincus, Washington Post
Documents, computers and other materials seized in raids in Pakistan
which senior al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was captured last week could
lead to other al Qaeda leaders and disrupt planned future terrorist attacks,
according to senior administration officials.
Telephone numbers and names found in the raids at more than a dozen homes
are being sent around the world for investigation, one official said. The
residences served as "safe houses" for at least 20 al Qaeda members from
outside Pakistan, along with 40 Pakistanis who may have been part of the
Taliban or al Qaeda.
Similar materials obtained during earlier operations in Pakistan and
Afghanistan helped intelligence analysts zero in on the safe houses targeted
in the raids last Thursday, another official said.
"Exploitation of the new materials has just begun, but we expect it will
pay us extra dividends," one senior analyst said.
Abu Zubaida, 30, the one-time recruiter and, more recently, the
operations field commander for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, was
described yesterday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as "a very
senior al Qaeda official who has been intimately involved in a range of
activities for the al Qaeda." White House press secretary Ari Fleischer
the administration considered his capture as "a very serious blow to al
"This is one of the bigger fish," said a senior intelligence official,
who called Abu Zubaida "one of the hardest of the hard core." Even if Abu
Zubaida never talks, the official said, the materials found in the raids
will help in the ongoing worldwide investigation of the bin Laden network
and in the goal of capturing bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman
Intelligence experts see another benefit from the capture based on the
way in which the bin Laden network is being forced to operate. With the
death last November of the network's military operations chief, Muhammad
Atef, in a U.S. bombing raid, Abu Zubaida had moved up to play "a unique
role," one senior official said. With both bin Laden and Zawahiri forced
U.S. military pressure to stay on the run between Pakistan and Afghanistan,
Abu Zubaida "had to pass on plans for future operations, with much of it
existing in his head."
"Rolling him up," this official said, referring to Abu Zubaida's capture,
"may be the end of that operation or at least until an alternative path
be found to get it done."
Another positive part of the raid, a senior official said, was the
capture of several of his subordinates. "They, too, can be useful," he said,
indicating the aides may be more prone to talk than Abu Zubaida.
Abu Zubaida was shot three times as he tried to escape the compound in
Faisalabad where he and seven or eight other Arab men were staying.
Fleischer told reporters the Saudi-born Palestinian "is currently receiving
medical attention" and "for security reasons, we are not going to discuss
Both security and the diplomatic sensitivities of Pakistani officials
worked with the CIA and FBI in the weeks leading up to the raids have caused
administration officials to shy away from saying exactly where Abu Zubaida
and the three or four subordinates seized with him are being held.
One official said yesterday that Pakistan holds the prisoners and is
making them available to U.S. interrogators. Reports from Pakistan on Monday
said that Abu Zubaida and some others taken in the raids had been turned
over to U.S. officials and eventually would be transported to the detention
facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A report from Lahore, Pakistan, yesterday said all the detainees were
still being held in that city.
Pakistani police said yesterday that 16 more al Qaeda members had been
picked up in Lahore based on interrogations of the Pakistanis arrested last
Thursday, but a senior administration official said yesterday he could not
confirm those reports.
Abu Zubaida allegedly served in the 1990s as a recruiter and coordinator
for Muslims who came from around the world to train at bin Laden's terrorist
camps in Afghanistan. He was one of several gatekeepers, interviewing new
arrivals when they appeared in Pakistan at an al Qaeda safe house and then
determining which of the several training camps they would be sent to.
Later he allegedly arranged for the trained terrorists to return to their
home countries or take up residence elsewhere and await orders. Court
testimony described him as involved in a thwarted plan to bomb hotels in
Jordan during millennial celebrations and plans to blow up the U.S. Embassy
in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
In France, a man accused in a plot by al Qaeda to blow up the U.S.
Embassy in Paris told a French judge he had been briefed by Abu Zubaida
bin Laden's home. After Atef's death he moved up to take a more active role
in al Qaeda field operations.
As Rumsfeld put it yesterday when asked about the potential questioning
of Abu Zubaida, "There is no question that having an opportunity to visit
with him is helpful."