September 2002 News

Key 9/11 suspect leaves Pakistan in U.S. custody

16 September 2002
The Washington Post
Kamran Khan and Susan Schmidt

KARACHI: Ramzi Binalshibh and four other al Qaeda suspects were handed over to U.S. officials today and whisked out of Pakistan on an unmarked CIA plane, bound for interrogation at a secret location, officials in Washington and Pakistan said. Pakistani authorities said that in the three days they held Binalshibh, he readily admitted his involvement in the Sept. 11 attack, but refused to disclose the location of other al Qaeda operatives and hide-outs. The plan when Binalshibh and the other were captured Friday was to take them to Afghanistan, when a number of newly captured al Qaeda figures have been transferred for interrogation, according to a U.S. government source. But U.S. officials today were maintaining strict secrecy about the destination. Investigators consider Binalshibh the most important figure in the Sept. 11 plot to be apprehended so far but his legal status remains in line. The White House said President Bush had not yet decided whether Binalshibh would be tried before a military tribunal. Binalshibh, who in an interview aired last week by the Arabic-language TV network al-Jazeera boasted of having supplied money and logistical support to the 19 hijackers, would have died along with them had he not been refused a U.S. visa. investigators believe. His own mortality still appeared much on his mind after his capture, according to sources. As Pakistanis who had interrogated him at a military facility near the Karachi airport prepared to relinquish him to U.S. custody, according to one official involved. Binalshibh demanded, "Are you taking me to the airport for my flight to death?" He was interviewed briefly by CIA and FBI agents before being flown out of the country, according to a Pakistani official. "Americans think that it may take weeks before Ramie's interrogation is completed from all possible angles," the official said. Five other al Qaeda suspects arrested in bloody raids last week on hideouts in Karachi remained in Pakistan, under police investigation for their possible roles in the January murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in a farmhouse outside of town. Two key suspects in the Pearl murder now in custody. Fazal Karim and Attaur Rehman, alias Naeem Bukhari, have told police that man who slit Pearl's throat was Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an al Qaeda operations leader who appeared with Binalshibh in a recent Arabic TV network documentary praising the Sept. 11 attacks. One of those arrested in last week's raids is a brother of one of the alleged organisers of the bombing of the USS Cole-in Yemen in 2000, according to a U.S. official. Binalshibh told Pakistani interrogators of his admiration for hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta, with whom he lived in Hamburg as the conspiracy developed. "Mohamed Atta, my friend, was such a great hero that coming generations of Muslims would decorate their living rooms with his pictures," he said in broken English, according to one interrogator. Another Pakistani interrogator said that Binalshibh justified his actions with "tales of repression of Muslims at the hands of infidels in Israel and Kashmir" The Pakistani government today cited the transfer as a new sign of its help against al Qaeda. "By handing over these al Qaeda suspects to the U.S., we have made another major contribution to the global war against terrorism," Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, press assistant to President Pervez Musharraf, said in Karachi today. A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said that as with all other al Qaeda suspect cases in Pakistan, no formal extradition process was completed for Ramzi. "Ramzi and four al Qaeda suspects were just [tun over] to the U.S. authorities under an agreement between the two countries," he said. Pakistani officials have said that since Sept. 11. Pakistan has handed over about 200 non-Pakistani terrorism suspects to the United States. In most cases they were transferred at Pakistani airports to U S. authorities, who put them aboard unmarked CIA flights to unknown destinations. "Ramzi and four others were found as 'black' [confirmed a Qaeda suspects] in the initial interrogation carried out by the Americans," said a mid-level Pakistani intelligence official. "Frankly speaking, even we don't know at least at our level, where the CIA flight carrying the al Qaeda suspects would land." Because of Binalshibh's connection to Hamburg, the German government, which last year issued an international warrant seeking his arrest, initially said it would seek his extradition. German Interior Minister Otto Schily shifted ground Sunday, however, saying that "it goes without saying Americans have priority for his extradition." U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, visiting Europe to meet with justice ministers, expressed satisfaction today with the German position. He said it was similar to the decision by the United States to allow Pakistan to prosecute one of the suspects in the Pearl murder. Pakistan said that it would prosecute first, then decide whether to hand him over to the United States. "The United States respected the Pakistan desire to move forward with that prosecution," Ashcroft said. "It is in that context that we see the kind of mutual understanding about the way in which we can handle cases in which more than one nation or jurisdiction has an interest." In Washington, Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters the capture of al Qaeda suspects is weakening the terror organisation. "The more of these people that are rolled up and put in jail and interrogated, the more difficult it is to recruit, the more difficult it is to retain people, the more difficult it is to raise money, the more difficult it is to transfer money, the more difficult it is for those folks to move between countries, the more careful they have to be in everything they do," Rumsfeld said. He said investigators have gathered "an awful lot of information" from al Qaeda captives that "has made life an awful lot more difficult for an awful lot of folks." Bush on a trip today to Davenport, Iowa, said Banalshibh's arrest shows that Americans have not grown weary of the war on terrorism but are as determined as ever. "He's the one that thought he was going to be the 20th bomber," Bush said. "He thought he could hide. He thought he could still threaten America. But he forgot the greatest nation on the face of the Earth is after them. One person at a time." Schmidt reported from Washington. Staff writer Dana Priest in Washington contributed to this report.


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