Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Pakistani authorities have handed over to the United States a man considered the biggest catch yet in the war on terrorism: Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaida leader believed to be leading an attempt to reconstitute the group in Pakistan, officials said.
The man has acknowledged he is Zubaydah, according to a senior Pakistani intelligence official and others familiar with his capture. Several of his former associates identified him from photographs, U.S. officials said. He would be the highest-ranking leader in the terrorist organization to fall into American hands since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Zubaydah is either the No. 2 man in Osama bin Laden's terrorist group or "very close to the No. 2 person in the organization." But he refused Monday to confirm his capture, saying it does not help the anti-terror campaign to publicize individuals who have been apprehended.
"If you start down that road," he said, it "tells other people much more than you want to tell them."
Acting on information obtained by the CIA, Pakistani officers, joined by the CIA and the FBI, carried out the raids. Zubaydah was shot in the stomach, legs and groin by Pakistanis as he tried to escape one of the raids at a compound in Faisalabad, one U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He has been receiving medical treatment, and is expected to survive. He was transferred to U.S. custody over the weekend.
Zubaydah, as a senior al-Qaida operational planner, would plot attacks based on guidance from bin Laden and his inner circle. Zubaydah would contact the cells in the field to organize the attacks, authorities have said.
If Zubaydah talks, he could be tremendously helpful to U.S. investigators. As the link between bin Laden's inner circle and foreign terrorist cells, Zubaydah is believed to know the names, faces and locations of operatives worldwide. He also may know where bin Laden is hiding.
He is known to have organized several attacks on U.S. interests, including the failed millennium plots to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and a hotel in Jordan frequented by American tourists, U.S. officials say. He also is believed to have played a role in a foiled plot to blow up the U.S. embassies in Sarajevo and Paris last fall, as well as the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
In a recent interview, President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, singled out Zubaydah as one target in the U.S. war on terror, calling him a "very dangerous man."
Officials said his capture could disrupt terrorist attacks in the works, but it does not mean the al-Qaida threat has ended.
Since the fall of the Taliban, Zubaydah has been leading an effort to reconstitute al-Qaida in Pakistan. An increase in money transfers and e-mail communications suggested he was commanding an al-Qaida faction that was planning new attacks against American interests, U.S. officials have said.
Officials have identified Zubaydah as one of two or three surviving al-Qaida leaders capable of succeeding bin Laden if he is killed.
A senior Pakistani intelligence officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the man believed to be Zubaydah is among about 20 Arabs to be flown to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners are detained.
The prisoners were believed to have been sent first to Jacobabad air base in Afghanistan's southern Sindh province.
Zubaydah, 31, is a Palestinian who was born in Saudi Arabia. He is also known as Zain al-Abidin Muhahhad Husain.
Before the war, he worked in Pakistan and screened al-Qaida volunteers traveling to Afghanistan, officials said. He would arrange their travel and send them to training camps. Once they completed training, he would assign them to cells overseas.
Three other senior al-Qaida leaders are already known to be in custody. They are Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, also known as "Riyadh the facilitator," Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. Al-Sharqawi is believed to have coordinated logistics for al-Qaida attacks, and al-Libi and al-Iraqi were two al-Qaida training camp commanders.
Zubaydah was among 70 people, including 45 Arabs and Afghans, who were arrested in nearly a dozen raids starting before dawn Thursday in Faisalabad, Lahore and a third, undisclosed location. During the raids, one suspect was killed and five people, including a policeman and Zubaydah, were wounded.
Several other senior al-Qaida leaders have been killed in fighting since Sept. 11. Mohammed Atef, a top bin Laden deputy and military commander, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in November.
Besides bin Laden, top al-Qaida leaders remaining at large include Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's doctor and spiritual adviser; Saif al-Adil, his security chief; and Shaykh Saiid, his financial director.
------EDITOR'S NOTE -- AP writers Zahid Hussain and Munir Ahmad in Pakistan contributed to this story.