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Arrested al Qaeda Operative May Tell Secrets

Aired September 14, 2002 - 08:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's get more on that major arrest in the war on terror. A top al Qaeda operative who acknowledges playing a role in planning the 9/11 attacks now in custody. It's a big coup. U.S. government officials tell CNN that Ramzi Binalshibh was nabbed during raids in Karachi this week.
With details on this, we turn to CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): This is believed to be one of the Wednesday raids that netted Ramzi Binalshibh, the man who has admitted playing a direct role in the September 11 attacks by helping to plan and finance the operation. His capture is a significant breakthrough for Pakistani and U.S. authorities.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: Should Ramzi Binalshibh choose to cooperate with investigators, I mean, he could basically lay out the whole 9-11 plan for the first time.

ARENA: Binalshibh was caught in Karachi. Pakistan's president told CNN about the raid by that country's intelligence service earlier this week that resulted in the capture of 10 al Qaeda operatives.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: It was a good operation. And there's one Egyptian, one Saudi and eight Yemenis in this. And I'm told maybe there is an important person also involved.

ARENA: By his own admission, Binalshibh was an integral part of the Hamburg, Germany terrorist cell that spawned the likes of Mohammed Atta. Binalshibh was, in fact, a roommate of at Atta's, the hijacker who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center. U.S. officials allege Binalshibh sent money to at least two of the hijackers, Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi.

Germany issued an international warrant for Binalshibh's arrest right after the attacks in September, but he alluded capture, disappearing in Pakistan a year ago. He resurfaced to be interviewed on audio tape for a documentary aired on Al Jazeera, the Arabic television network, this week. In the interview, Binalshibh boasted about his role in the September 11 attacks, even the early morning phone call he got on August 29, 2001 from Mohammed Atta with a coded message setting the date.

RAMZI BIN AL-SHIBH: He said, "A friend of mine gave me a puzzle and I want you to help me out." I said to him, "Is this the time for puzzles, Mohammed?" He said, "Yes, I know, but no one else but you could help me." He said, "Two sticks, a dash and cake with a stick down. What is it?" I said, "Did you wake me up just to tell me this?" As it turns out, two sticks is the number 11. A dash is a dash. And cake with a stick down is the number nine. And that was September 11 .

ARENA: Investigators believe Binalshibh may have planned to be the 20th hijacker. He tried to enter the United States four times prior to September 11, but was denied a visa each time.

(on camera): Binalshibh has been linked to at least one post- 9/11 attack on a synagogue in Tunisia. Now, if he talks, Binalshibh could provide vital, but most important, up to date information about the al Qaeda terrorist network.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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