Bin Laden Allies: Al Qaeda Will Survive Arrest

Usama bin Laden's terrorist network lost a key operative with the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but Taliban fugitives and Al Qaeda allies said Sunday the arrest will not cripple the organization.

"There is not just one person there. For every one Khalid Shaikh there are 10 others. There are lots of people who can do his work," said an Afghan rebel who gave his name as Ahmed but who also goes by Abu Bilal.

Mohammed, 37, is suspected of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He was captured early Saturday in a joint raid by Pakistani and CIA agents, officials said, and now is believed to be in U.S. custody overseas.

His arrest may mean less money -- though only temporarily -- for Al Qaeda and its allies, Ahmed said.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Mohammed's main work for Al Qaeda was to move money and recruit operatives, said Ahmed, a fund-raiser for the Afghan rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Ahmed said he had known Mohammed since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, Mohammed and his brother ran a Saudi-funded Islamic charity in Peshawar, Ahmed said.

Ahmed said Mohammed never would have been arrested had he stayed along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. On the Afghan side are mountains with plenty of places to hide. On the other is a semiautonomous region known as Pakistan's tribal region.

Another man interviewed in this northwestern city on the edge of the tribal region said there were several Arabs in the area.

The man, who like many Afghans gave only one name, Qayyum, described himself as loyal to the Taliban, Afghanistan's fallen Islamic regime.

He said he did not know if any of the Arabs were top Al Qaeda suspects but he is sure bin Laden is not among them.

Qayyum said Al Qaeda and its allies continue running small training camps in the rugged peaks of eastern Afghanistan and he recently returned from one of them.

He quoted others at the camp as saying bin Laden is hiding in the mountains, changing locations daily and traveling with only four or five confidants.

Qayyum also handed over a recording of a voice purported to be that of bin Laden. He offered the cassette as proof bin Laden is alive and active. The tape was a sermon given by bin Laden last month to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. He got it in Afghanistan from his Al Qaeda instructors, he said.

"More than 100 percent I know that Usama Sheikh is in Afghanistan. Listen. This is his voice," said Qayyum, a native of Afghanistan's eastern Paktia province. He used a common nickname for bin Laden.

Qayyum popped the audiocassette in the tape player of a white pickup truck as the vehicle weaved past stubborn donkeys and motorized rickshaws blocking the narrow streets of ancient Peshawar.

Qayyum said both the Taliban and Hekmatyar recently received a large sum of money from bin Laden. In a soft whisper he calculated: $1.8 million for the Taliban.

It was impossible to independently confirm the information but Western intelligence sources say Al Qaeda, Hekmatyar and the Taliban are aligned. A European intelligence agent said more money has been coming into Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months, which would corroborate Qayyum's claim.

The key province in the tribal region is ruled by a hardline coalition of religious parties that sympathize with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

"No matter what America says against them we consider them our friends, our brothers, our heroes," said Amirul Azeem, spokesman for the main party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

It was at the house of a Jamaat-e-Islami supporter that Pakistani officials say Mohammed was arrested.

Qayyum told the AP there is growing coordination among the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Hekmatyar.

People in the tribal areas move back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are the men doing the training, moving the foot soldiers of the terrorist organizations and carrying messages and money from one area to another and from one leader to another.

"Everybody has their job. Those people in the cities are bringing in the money," Qayyum said. And occasionally they travel to another country to meet "other brothers who give them money or who are given an assignment."

Mohammed is one of three top Al Qaeda men caught in a Pakistani city since the U.S.-led coalition launched its anti-terror war in Afghanistan 17 months ago.

The others are suspected financier Abu Zubaydah, captured in March 2002 in central Faisalabad, and Ramzi Binalshibh, a would-be hijacker who could not get into the United States. He was captured Sept. 11, 2002, in the southern port city of Karachi.