Seized Materials May Help Thwart Future Attacks
Documents, computers and other materials seized in raids in Pakistan in 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 said the administration considered his capture as "a very serious blow to al Qaeda."
"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 Zawahiri.
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 by 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 can 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 his location."
Both security and the diplomatic sensitivities of Pakistani officials who 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 in 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."