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Zubaida, Senior Al-Qaida Member, Said to Provide ‘Good’ Information

By Walter Pincus
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Abu Zubaida, a senior al-Qaida operations officer who was captured in Pakistan in March, is continuing to give “good” information to U.S. interrogators “from time to time,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

Zubaida initially identified Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, 37, a Kuwaiti who is reported to be in Afghanistan, as a key logistics planner in the Sept. 11 attacks and later provided leads that led to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in May on charges that he was preparing to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States.

At least two other associates of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader, at Zubaida’s level in the al-Qaida organization have been captured, the official said, but neither has provided useful information to date. The official refused to identify the two other captives.

While information provided by Zubaida, 31, who is being questioned by U.S. authorities at an undisclosed location, has proved “valuable,” the official said, it has been supplemented by information gained from computer discs seized during the March 28 raid of two al-Qaida safehouses by FBI and Pakistani agents in the town of Faisalabad in northwest Pakistan.

Al-Qaida kept detailed computer records on its members as well as some records on the thousands of recruits who went through its training camps in Afghanistan. Since stealing through embezzlement of funds is considered a crime in the Muslim world, records on the payments of funds were detailed, according to sources familiar with the records.

At a 90-minute lunch with Washington Post reporters and editors in June, FBI Director Robert Mueller said he was sending out special teams of agents to various parts of the United States to track suspected terrorists roughly every two weeks. Mueller would not specify how many possible terrorists the agency was tracking, but said the bureau has been “pushed, really pushed” to keep up with them. And he acknowledged that agents have no choice but to monitor the suspects around the clock when they could not be detained for immigration or other violations.

Mueller said, “And what do we do for the next five years? Do we surveil them? Some action has to be taken.”

Wednesday’s arrests in Michigan and Oregon of six individuals alleged to have aided or been associated with terrorist plots appear to reflect the beginning of a crackdown, according to law enforcement sources.

The up-and-down nature of Zubaida’s interrogation was referred to in a declaration by Michael Mobbs, a Defense Department adviser, that was released Tuesday as part of a Justice Department filing in the case of Padilla, who is being held as an enemy combatant in South Carolina.

Zubaida provided the initial rudimentary information that the Chicago-born Padilla and an unidentified non-American associate had met during the fall of 2001 in Afghanistan. Padilla, who turned to Islam during a jail term in Florida and in 1998 moved to Egypt, offered to conduct terrorist operations inside the United States, according to U.S. officials.

Zubaida did not believe the information he provided his interrogators would lead to Padilla, but U.S. authorities obtained confirmation of the story and more information from Padilla’s associate, who also had been captured, the senior official said. Thereafter, Zubaida attempted to recant the information but by then it had been corroborated by other sources, the official said.