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U.S. Wants Custody of Binalshibh

Suspected Sept. 11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh's transfer to the United States became more likely Sunday when Germany decided not to pursue his extradition to face a mass murder-conspiracy indictment.

The United States wants custody of Binalshibh, who was captured last week in Karachi, and will work with Pakistani authorities to have them hand him over, President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday.

"Oh, we will be working with the Pakistani officials to make certain that he gets to the right place," Condoleezza Rice said. "There's no doubt that the United States will want to have access to him and to have him, because this is an important breakthrough."

Another significant Al Qaeda member was also captured last week but Pakistan has refused to identify him by name or nationality.

While Rice could not confirm speculation that it was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of Usama bin Laden's chief lieutenants, she said, "I wouldn't rule anything out here, but I think that we'll just wait and see how this unfolds."

"We certainly want custody of him, and we certainly want to be able to find out what he knows," Rice told Fox News Sunday.

Germany has an international arrest warrant for Binalshibh charging him with more than 3,000 counts of murder for allegedly conspiring in the city of Hamburg with hijacker Mohamed Atta and other Sept. 11 plotters to attack the United States.

But German Interior Minister Otto Schily said Sunday the government had dropped plans to ask Pakistan to extradite Binalshibh, avoiding a potential conflict with the U.S.

Schily said that given the "terrible attacks of Sept. 11 occurred in New York and Washington, it goes without saying that Americans have priority for his extradition."

The U.S. has not issued any public indictment against Binalshibh, but he is named as an unindicted coconspirator in the case of Zacharias Moussaoui, the designated 20th hijacker who was arrested before Sept. 11.

Tensions between Germany and the United States have been high recently, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder being increasingly outspoken in opposing a U.S. attack on Iraq.

Had Binalshibh been extradited to Germany it could have caused more conflict between the allies, as Germany -- like other European Union countries -- generally refuses to turn over suspects to a country where they could face the death penalty.

Binalshibh and at least nine other Al Qaeda members remained under interrogation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agencies, said an official with Pakistan's Interior Ministry.

A Pakistani official said U.S. authorities are primarily responsible for questioning the suspects.

The cell included Mohamed Atta, suspected ringleader of the hijackers who piloted one of the hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center. Binalshibh has claimed to have coordinated the four simultaneous hijackings.

Binalshibh was frustrated in his attempts to receive a visa to enter the United States in 2000, where, U.S. and German officials allege, he had planned to join the other 19 hijackers.

"The other people who were captured or killed here are perhaps equally important as to what happened with Binalshibh, but we will see who else was gotten in this raid," Rice said on ABC's This Week.

"I think he's a pretty big fish. I mean, this is perhaps within the circle of those who were responsible for 9/11. And so, I think he is a pretty big catch," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a television interview.

Rice said that despite U.S. successes in Afghanistan against the Al Qaeda terror network, "there continues to be concern about remnants of the organization that might still be plotting and planning" because U.S. officials have believed it could function without a central command.

"One of the issues is, how decentralized is the decision-making? Does there have to be an order to go ahead and launch an attack? And we're learning a lot more about the organization from these people that we're capturing," she said.

That has expanded the fight against terrorism to other countries, including Pakistan and Yemen, in an effort to prevent Al Qaeda from regrouping elsewhere, she said.

"It's not the organization that it once was, but we believe that the better part of valor is to continue to consider it a dangerous organization," Rice said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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