KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) – An alleged organizer of the Sept. 11 attacks was handed over to U.S. authorities yesterday along with four other al-Qaida suspects who were arrested here last week in a major blow to the terrorist network.
The five suspects – including Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni who allegedly wired money to the hijackers in the United States and provided them logistical support – were flown out of Pakistan, several senior Pakistani officials said.
The handover took place after a Pakistani official said police were investigating whether some of those arrested with Binalshibh were involved in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was abducted in Karachi in January.
If a link were established, it would be the first evidence that al-Qaida may have been involved in Pearl’s abduction and killing.
President Bush said Binalshibh’s arrest showed the war on terrorism had not flagged.
“I had the feeling that after September the 11th, that some around the world would grow weary and tired of this effort,” Bush said in Iowa. “But that’s not how America feels. That’s not how that fellow who’s been picked up in Pakistan feels, too.”
German prosecutors believe the 30-year-old Binalshibh was meant to be the fourth suicide pilot in the attacks on the United States. After he was refused a U.S. visa, he instead arranged payments to American flight schools and made frequent organizational trips.
“After his exclusion as the fourth pilot, Binalshibh became the most significant contact person inside the network,” chief German prosecutor Kay Nehm told reporters in August.
Although U.S. officials say Binalshibh was a key figure in the German-based cell that helped carry out the Sept. 11 attacks, they say he was not an overall leader in Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
The FBI believes he is a key aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is thought to have been a top planner of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and to have plotted several al-Qaida attacks since.
The arrests of Binalshibh and the other militants marked one of the biggest successes in the U.S.-led war against terrorism since Abu Zubaydah, the third-ranking official in the al-Qaida network, was captured in March in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
Binalshibh was seized in a raid on an apartment building in a middle-class neighborhood Wednesday – the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Around a dozen suspects were arrested there and in a sweep the previous day.
Among those captured and since handed over to U.S. custody was Umar al-Gharib, a brother of al-Qaida leader Tawfiq Attash Khallad, a U.S. defense official in Washington said on the condition of anonymity. Khallad is thought to be one of the masterminds of the deadly October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.
Though not a leader in al-Qaida, al-Gharib may have valuable information nonetheless, the official said.
Binalshibh and the four other militants were handed over to U.S. custody yesterday, chief government spokesman Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi said.
Four other Pakistani officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the five men were put on a flight out of Pakistan, but did not say their destination. Zubaydah’s final destination has never been announced.
It was unclear whether the four militants handed over with Binalshibh were the ones Pakistani police suspect may be linked to Pearl’s slaying. Pearl’s dismembered body was found in May in a shallow grave in Karachi.
Four Pakistani militants, including British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, were convicted in Pearl’s abduction.