Published November 16, 2002
WASHINGTON – A "senior Al Qaeda member" has been arrested and is being held in an undisclosed country, U.S. officials told Fox News on Friday.
The officials did not reveal any details of the circumstances surrounding the arrest, including when it occurred or where the suspect was being held. But sources did confirm that a senior Al Qaeda leader is "in U.S. hands."
Sources said the suspect was neither Usama bin Laden nor his number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, but is one of the "top handful of Al Qaeda leaders."
"Someone who knows Al Qaeda would know his name," one official said. "This is a big deal."
Sources told Fox News authorities were trying to get the Al Qaeda leader out of the country where he was arrested.
The description was deliberately vague because this is an "ongoing operation," sources told Fox News.
Officials called the arrest of this "big fish" a significant intelligence victory, comparable to the capture of Al Qaeda chief of operations Abu Zubaydah, who has reportedly provided a wealth of information about the terror network since being taken into custody.
Zubaydah, who was captured in March, remains held in an undisclosed location, as are several lesser-known Al Qaeda figures.
The loss of some of bin Laden's top lieutenants has contributed to the decentralization of the terror threat, officials have said. Mohammed Atef, bin Laden's top military commander, was killed by a U.S. military and CIA airstrike last year.
Other leaders, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, another operational planner whom officials believe masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks, continue to plot terrorist strikes, U.S. counterterrorism officials said.
Of these surviving card-carrying Al Qaeda operatives, many have gone to Pakistan. Some are in the cities, including the operatives who worked with American Jose Padilla in Lahore and Karachi before his capture in Chicago.
Others are believed to be in the remote tribal belt of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.
News of the latest arrest came just three days after the Al-Jazeera television network broadcast an audiotape believed to have been made by bin Laden, in which he warned U.S. allies to back away from plans to attack Iraq.
The last certain evidence bin Laden or any other top Al Qaeda leader was alive came in a videotape of him having dinner with some of his deputies, which is believed to have been filmed on Nov. 9, 2001.
News of the arrest also came just hours after the FBI issued warnings of Al Qaeda plans for a "spectacular" attack intended to disrupt the American economy and cause mass casualties. The bulletin did not say where, when or how such an attack might occur.
"Some suggest Al Qaeda may favor spectacular attacks that meet several criteria: high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy and maximum psychological trauma," says the alert, posted on the FBI's Web site early Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.