Rumsfeld Confirms Capture of Senior Al Qaeda Leader
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 2, 2002 A senior al Qaeda leader captured by the Pakistanis last week will be turned over to U.S. officials for questioning, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters here today.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (right) and Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold meet the press outside the Pentagon. The two discussed April 2 Norway's offer to provide F-16 fighters to assist in anti-terror war efforts in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld confirmed White House and Pakistani reports that a key al Qaeda leader was captured last week in Pakistan and is being held for questioning by U.S. officials. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary was holding an outdoor Pentagon news conference with Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold when he confirmed Pakistani and White House reports that al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah had been captured.
"He is, in fact, in custody," Rumsfeld said of Zubaydah. "Being a very senior al Qaeda official who has been intimately involved in a range of activities for the al Qaeda, there is no question but that having an opportunity to visit with him is helpful." Officials believe Zubaydah is one of fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's senior lieutenants.
Rumsfeld declined to discuss Zubaydah's location with reporters, calling his whereabouts "a matter of security."
Pakistani officials captured Zubaydah during a March 28 raid, DoD spokesman Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan said. News reports note that FBI and CIA agents were also involved in the raid.
Zubaydah sustained several wounds in the raid, but "he is getting very good medical care," Rumsfeld noted, adding that none of the injuries seems to be life-threatening.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer noted at an earlier press conference that Zubaydah's capture "represents a very serious blow" to al Qaeda. Rumsfeld noted that he and the Norwegian defense minister had just discussed Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where Norway has deployed troops, and the overall war against global terrorism. The secretary pointed to "the very fine role that Norway has been playing with respect to the Afghanistan activity."
Norway and NATO, the secretary added, have provided Airborne Warning and Control System planes and crews to assist America in its homeland defense efforts.
Devold noted that Norway has also offered to provide F-16 fighters to assist in anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan.
"Norway planned to be able to go together with Denmark and the Netherlands with a deployment of F-16s, if we are needed later on this year," she said.
Some al Qaeda terrorists chased out of Afghanistan by U.S., coalition and allied Afghan troops have been able to use Iran as an escape route, Rumsfeld noted.
"Al Qaeda (members) have moved into Iran and out of Iran to the south and dispersed to some other countries," the secretary said. "To my knowledge, they are not operating out of Iran, in the sense that they were out of Afghanistan, so there is that distinction."
However, Rumsfeld seemed to want more Iranian assistance, perhaps relative to stopping terrorists fleeing Afghanistan. "It certainly would be helpful if they were more cooperative, and they have not been, particularly," he said.
Rumsfeld added that the Iran-Afghanistan border is "difficult" and "porous," similar to the Afghanistan- Pakistan border. "I'm not suggesting that it is possible for a country to know with perfect certainty exactly everything that is moving either way across the border," he noted.
Militant religious fundamentalists have run Iran since the ouster of the U.S.-backed shah more than 20 years ago. In recent years, younger Iranians seem to be pushing against their stiffly religious and conservative government for more individual freedoms.
"Iran," Rumsfeld said, "is a country where ultimately the people are going to change their circumstance. It's a country with an important history. It has a well-educated population.
"The people are being oppressed. They are being denied rights that most of the people around the world seem to find a way to get for themselves.
"And, I suspect that the leadership in Iran will find itself with difficulties, over time," he concluded.