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U.S. May Have Top Al-Qaida Leader

Zubaydah is the chief of operations for al-Qaida, the terrorist network headed by alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, and is believed to have been trying to re-form the terror group in Pakistan

If reports of the arrest are true, Zubaydah would be the highest ranking al-Qaida member in custody — one expected to have intimate knowledge of the network’s plans and operatives.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Zubaydah is either bin Laden’s right-hand man or “very close to the number two person in the organization.” But Rumsfeld wouldn’t confirm whether the U.S. had the al-Qaida official in custody, telling reporters that discussing specifics would not help further the U.S. terror war.

“If you start down that road,” Rumsfeld said, it “tells other people much more than you want to tell them.”

But a Pakistani official said the man acknowledged he was Zubaydah, while U.S. officials said former associates have also identified the man from photographs, the Associated Press reported.

The man believed to be the 30-year-old Zubaydah was captured along with 25 other suspects during a Pakistani police raid on Thursday, supported by FBI agents and CIA operatives, published reports said. According to those reports, Zubaydah was shot in the stomach, legs and groin as he attempted to escape from a compound in the city of Faisalabad, about 170 miles south of the capital Islamabad. U.S. officials told news agencies he is expected to survive his wounds.

According to published reports, the man believed to be Zubaydah is expected to be transported to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where other suspected al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners are being detained.

Zubaydah has been described as a senior organizer of and recruiter for al-Qaida’s foreign terrorist cells. Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian man convicted of attempting to bomb the Los Angeles airport in December 1999, said in court testimony Zubaydah helped direct al-Qaida’s training camps. Ressam said Zubaydah made arrangements for him and others to enter and leave the al-Qaida facilities.

The Saudi Arabian-born Zubaydah has been linked to the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as foiled plots to bomb the U.S. embassies in Paris and Sarajevo, The New York Times reports.

A Jordanian military court sentenced Zubaydah to death last year for allegedly plotting to attack Jodanian tourist areas around New Year’s Day 2000.

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