NEW YORK – In a double whammy on the war on terror, U.S. authorities in Pakistan arrested a man suspected to be a major planner of the Sept. 11 attacks and also arrested five members of a suspected terror cell near Buffalo, N.Y.
One member of the homegrown cell was linked to intelligence that also prompted the Justice Department to issue a higher alert earlier this week, officials said.
Officials said Ramzi Binalshibh, suspected to be a major planner of Sept. 11, was arrested in Pakistan earlier this week and was being held in U.S. custody.
Binalshibh is one of the so-called "20th hijackers" who tried to take part in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington but had problems acquiring a U.S. visa. He was captured Wednesday in a joint raid by Pakistani forces and U.S. intelligence officers in southern coastal city of Karachi. The raid ended in a deadly shootout.
In a recent interview with the Arabic satellite news network Al-Jazeera, Binalshibh bragged that he had participated in the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Binalshibh's roommate, Mohammed Atta, was one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
U.S. officials say Binalshibh was also a member of a Hamburg-based cell led by Atta.
Before Sept. 11, Binalshibh was frustrated in his attempts to receive a visa to enter the United States in 2000. Instead, U.S. officials allege, he provided financial support to the other 19 hijackers.
Separately, officials said five men of Yemeni descent, most believed to American citizens, were arrested in Lackawanna, outside Buffalo, on suspicions they were operating as a terrorist cell on U.S. soil.
The officials said the men were on U.S. soil for years and lived just a few blocks from each other, but were discovered through recent investigation and intelligence suggesting they were part of a terrorist cell.
The evidence included a recent spike in communications with suspected terrorist locations overseas, and some evidence of attendance at a terror training camp linked to Usama bin Laden, the officials said.
The officials said, however, there was no evidence the men were in any stages of launching a terrorist attack.
Officials declined to describe many of the details of the case, saying it was sealed. The arrests will be announced by the Justice Department at a news conference Saturday, a senior government official said, on condition of anonymity.
The source said the Justice Department plans to charge the men in the Buffalo area capture with providing material support and resources to terrorists.
U.S. officials said the discovery of the cell was connected to information that also prompted the Bush administration to raise America's terror alert to "code orange" -- the second highest -- on the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary.
One senior government official said one of the men arrested in Buffalo is linked to Omar al-Farouq, a senior Al Qaeda figure captured in Asia this summer, who has provided his interrogators specific information suggesting that terror cells in the region were planning attacks on U.S. facilities, the sources said.
The official did not say how the two were associated.
The official said the information provided by Farouq that led to the higher alert does not stop with the five men arrested in Buffalo. "There are other reasons we're at orange," the official said, without elaborating.
Binalshibh's capture is a major accomplishment for the United States. Binalshibh, who has alluded authorities for months, was not injured during his arrest.
To catch him, police commandos fought a pitched battle with Al Qaeda suspects holed up in an apartment Wednesday, with combat spilling out onto adjoining rooftops, officials said. They said that two suspects were killed and five captured in the fighting, as Pakistan stepped up pressure on the remnants of the terrorist movement a year after it made its mark on the world.
Six officers were wounded when police stormed the top-floor apartment and the rooftop where the gunmen held out against hundreds of troops in the street and on the roofs of nearby apartment blocks, they said. Two of the wounded were reported in critical condition.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told a news program in an interview Friday that one Egyptian, one Saudi and eight Yemenis were captured in the raid.
U.S. personnel were not hurt in the raid, officials said.
Binalshibh, 30, was born in Yemen. He is being sought by the German government for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera ran a taped interview with Binalshibh Thursday, in which he said he helped coordinate the attacks. Also interviewed was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom U.S. counterterrorism officials say masterminded the strikes.
He also appeared in a videotape recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the home of Al Qaeda's slain military chief, Mohammed Atef.
According to the U.S. grand jury indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui, an alleged conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks, Binalshibh applied four times for a visa to enter the United States from May to October 2000, but was rebuffed each time.
After being denied a visa for the third time, Binalshibh allegedly began funneling money to associates inside the United States. He wired money to Moussaoui, to at least two hijackers and to a Florida flight school at which one of the hijackers was training, the indictment said.
Authorities believe Binalshibh fled Germany for Pakistan before Sept. 11. German authorities had issued an international arrest warrant for Binalshibh, whose whereabouts until now were unknown.
A correspondent for the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera claimed to have interviewed Binalshibh and another Sept. 11 fugitive, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, at a secret location in Pakistan. The men admitted being central figures in the Sept. 11 plot, and claimed the U.S. Congress had been another target that day.
In Thursday's broadcast, Al-Jazeera aired audio excerpts of the interview, in which two male voices attributed to Mohammed and Binalshibh revealed details about the buildup to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The voice purported to be Binalshibh's said the hijackers were instructed to take over the planes 15 minutes after takeoff. "That was the best time, and they were very brave," he said.
Two other members of the Hamburg cell, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, died in the suicide hijackings. Two other members of the Hamburg cell did not take part in the hijackings and are still at large.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.