Arrest Revives Hopes for Bin Laden Capture

The capture of the man believed to Al Qaeda's No. 3 has revived hopes of finally closing in on the world's most wanted terrorist.

Pakistani officials, who as recently as March said the trail for Usama bin Laden (search) had grown cold, hailed this week's arrest of Abu Farraj al-Libbi (search) as a key step to tracking down his reputed commander.

The Libyan-born terror suspect is said to have been a close comrade of bin Laden's since the early 1990s, when they both fought for the Taliban (search) in Sudan. U.S. intelligence officials, who have been hunting bin Laden since President Bush declared a War on Terror three years ago, expected al-Libbi to have information on the elusive leader blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

Al-Libbi's arrest in Pakistan revived hopes among Americans who had grown frustrated with the so-far fruitless search for bin Laden, who is believed by most intelligence officials to be trapped in the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and yet has never been found.

"What it [al-Libbi's arrest] means is that the operational head of Al Qaeda (search) is gone. That's very good," Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., told FOX News on Thursday. "Are we closer to getting to bin Laden? I certainly hope so."

The arrest may also have reminded Americans that there has been no letup in the hunt for the terror network's chief, even as his name is seen in fewer and fewer headlines.

"The American people should be proud of the work that was done by the CIA and the Pakistani authorities here," said Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, FOX News' foreign affairs analyst.

Ginsberg said that probably more important than bin Laden, who is believed to have transitioned into a figurehead for the terror network than on-the-ground commander, was information that could help further dismantle Al Qaeda.

"Since he was the replacement of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (search), the true operational czar of Al Qaeda, perhaps ... we can now trace who else has been recruited into Al Qaeda around the world," Ginsberg said.

Officials said al-Libbi was closed-lipped for hours after his capture on Monday before confessing his identity. Pakistan is sharing intelligence gleaned from him with U.S. officials.

The Libyan terror suspect was Pakistan's most-wanted man, accused of masterminding two 2003 assassination attempts against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that left 17 others dead.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that al-Libbi was still in Pakistan's custody and that he was being questioned. He declined to give details.

However, an intelligence official who is familiar with the investigation said that al-Libbi was being questioned by Pakistani counterterrorism experts and security officials. He said U.S. officials were not present at the interrogation, but Pakistan had shared with them its preliminary findings.

He said that al-Libbi initially refused to speak.

"He remained silent for hours, but he had to admit that he is Al Qaeda. He had no other option because our people had very solid evidence to prove his identity," said the Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two days after al-Libbi's arrest security forces raided two homes in the northwestern tribal region of Bajor and arrested 11 terror suspects, including three Uzbeks, an Afghan and seven Pakistanis. On Tuesday, police also arrested six Pakistanis, including two women, and seized weapons after a raid in an upscale residential area of the eastern city of Lahore.

Police officials denied reports either of the arrests were linked to information provided by al-Libbi, and said the Lahore operation appeared to be a family dispute.

Al-Libbi, who's thought to use at least five aliases, was behind only Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri and bin Laden himself in the terror group's hierarchy, U.S. counterterrorism officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Al-Libbi is believed responsible for planning attacks in the United States, the officials said.

Commandos seized al-Libbi along with another foreigner Monday after a firefight outside the hardscrabble town of Mardan, about 30 miles from the northwestern city of Peshawar, Pakistani officials said. The arrests were announced Wednesday. The other suspect was not identified.

Witnesses said one of two men was disguised with a burqa, the all-encompassing robe worn by women in conservative Islamic families.

Villagers in the Mardan suburb of Shahdand Baba told Associated Press Television News that a small team of Pakistani security agency officers pounced as two men rode by motorbike across a dusty graveyard.

One man was captured quickly, while another, who was dressed in a burqa, managed to escape temporarily. He fled to a big home of Mardan resident Zakir Khan and was pursued by Pakistani intelligence agents who "came in through our roof," Khan said.

"One man was hiding in the guest quarters and they found him there," Khan said. "He was a fat man with a long beard and a fair complexion. They arrested him."

It was not clear if the man was al-Libbi or the other suspect.

U.S. officials said the arrest was the most significant since the March 1, 2003, capture of Mohammed, Al Qaeda's No. 3 at the time, also in Pakistan. They said it was the result of months of close cooperation between Pakistan and the CIA.

Al-Libbi's name was not on the FBI list of most wanted terrorists.

However, Vince Cannistraro, the former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, said that did not mean that the rest of the intelligence community didn't want him — badly. "In intelligence circles, he was certainly considered the No. 3 man," he said.

FOX News' Jane Roh and The Associated Press contributed to this report.