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THE PRISONER PROBLEM

Terror Suspects Still at Large

Of 86 individuals that detainees say Al Qaeda `deemed suitable' for attacks in the U.S. or Europe, most remain free, documents show.

September 07, 2006|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda detainees have helped the CIA identify at least 86 individuals that the terror organization "deemed suitable" for attacks in the United States or Europe, but more than half of them remain at large, according to documents released Wednesday by the Bush administration.

That was just one of many disclosures contained in a raft of formerly classified documents released by the White House to accompany President Bush's announcement that he was transferring 14 high-value Al Qaeda detainees from CIA custody to the prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to face trial.

Taken together, Bush's speech, documents released by the director of national intelligence and briefings by administration officials provided a sweeping overview of a CIA program that had been one of the government's most carefully guarded secrets. They also provided some unsettling details about Al Qaeda's sophisticated operation and its plots against the United States and its allies overseas.

In his speech, Bush described a cascading effect in which the capture of key prisoners led to the identification and capture of other terrorism suspects.

In particular, he said senior Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubeida identified one of the key accomplices in the Sept. 11 attacks, Ramzi Binalshibh, and provided information that led to his capture.

In turn, information from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed led to other terrorist suspects, including affiliates of the Jemaah Islamiah organization in Southeast Asia. And some of them ultimately named Hambali, the head of Jemaah Islamiah who also acted as Al Qaeda's top coordinator in that region.

When confronted with the news that 17 of his operatives had been captured, Hambali acknowledged that the men were being groomed at Mohammed's request for more attacks inside the United States, probably using airplanes.

During questioning, Mohammed also provided many details of other plots to kill Americans.

For example, he described the design of planned attacks on buildings inside the United States, and how operatives were directed to carry them out.

"He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent the people trapped above from escaping out the windows," Bush said.

Terrorist suspects held in CIA custody have provided information that helped stop a planned strike on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. The operatives, Bush said, were going to use an explosive-laden water tanker.

Most of the details of these plots did not make it into the president's 37-minute speech at the White House, but they were eye-opening just the same.

The detainees also provided details about Al Qaeda's specially trained travel facilitators and forgers, whose role was to crank out falsified documents to aid operatives on their terrorist missions around the world.

Some of them spent most of their time -- and a lot of Al Qaeda's money -- trying to help get operatives into the United States for attacks under the direct supervision of Mohammed.

One of them was a relative of Mohammed known as Ammar al-Baluchi, who has been accused of delivering funds to the Sept. 11 hijackers. What hadn't been disclosed was that Al-Baluchi went so far as to marry an Al Qaeda operative named Aafia Siddiqui and send her to the United States to help one of Al Qaeda's soldiers slip into the country.

Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated neuroscientist, remains on the loose and is one of the FBI's most wanted suspected terrorists. But her connections to Al Qaeda, and especially to Mohammed and the terror network's inner circle, had never been disclosed.

The administration also released details about the man that Siddiqui allegedly helped infiltrate the United States in preparation for attack, Majid Khan. Khan had links to top Al Qaeda operatives, including Mohammed, who assigned him to conduct research on poisoning U.S. water reservoirs. The Pakistani national, also known as Yusif, attended high school in Baltimore in the late 1990s.

Additional information about the 14 CIA detainees was released Wednesday, including:

* Abu Faraj Libbi, a Libyan, was the former No. 3 leader of Al Qaeda and the most wanted man in Pakistan. He allegedly masterminded two attempts to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But as Al Qaeda's "general manager" he also was heavily involved in financially supporting not only Al Qaeda operatives but their families as well.

* Abu Zubeida, a Palestinian raised in Saudi Arabia, was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many Al Qaeda cells around the world. But he also was believed to be organizing an attack on Israel at the time of his capture in 2002, using at least $50,000 from donors in Saudi Arabia. And in November 2001, Zubeida helped smuggle Abu Musab Zarqawi, the now-deceased leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and some 70 other Arab fighters out of Afghanistan and into Iran.

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