President vows to press hunt for terrorism suspects

Friday, November 22, 2002  
1:43 PM EST 

The USS Cole bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors in October 2000
  Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- >
 Bush: 'Killer' brought to justice
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (CNN) -- President Bush on Friday hailed the capture of a man U.S. officials describe as a high-ranking al Qaeda leader, saying authorities had brought to justice a "killer."

U.S. officials announced Thursday that al Qaeda's chief of operations in the Persian Gulf was in U.S. custody after his recent capture in an undisclosed country.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the suspected mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in October 2000, was arrested earlier this month, officials said. He is considered one of the highest-ranking al Qaeda leaders captured in the international war on terrorism.

"We did bring to justice a killer," Bush told reporters.  "And the message is, (that) we're making war on the -- we're making progress on the war against terrorists, that we're going to hunt them down one at a time, that it doesn't matter where they hide; as we work with our friends, we will find them and bring them to justice."

Bush was in St. Petersburg, Russia for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Al-Nashiri is said to be of similar rank to two other captured al Qaeda operatives: operations chief Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh, believed to be a main organizer of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Few details were revealed about al-Nashiri's capture or where he is being held.

One U.S. official told CNN that he was captured "in the region for which he was responsible" but would not elaborate.  Intelligence officials said al-Nashiri was running his reputed operations out of Yemen, but they would not say if that was where he was nabbed.

Al-Nashiri has been cooperating with interrogators since he was apprehended, another U.S. official said.

"He has been of some help in terms of information," the U.S. official said, declining to be more specific.

In recent weeks, U.S. and coalition officials have warned of a growing terrorist threat, based on a recent audiotape message by Osama bin Laden and information from key detainees of the war on terror.

The U.S. State Department issued a "worldwide caution" Wednesday, warning Americans of continued threats posed by terrorists against U.S. interests

U.S. government sources said Thursday that intelligence reports during the past several weeks had persistently warned of possible maritime attacks in the Red Sea -- including plans to fly airplanes into U.S. and coalition warships in the region.  Officials described the reports as "credible" but "uncorroborated," but said they were taking them all seriously. (Full story)

Seventeen sailors killed
An explosives expert, al-Nashiri made the bomb that was placed on a dinghy that rammed the USS Cole, according to U.S. officials.  The attack, which investigators also say al-Nashiri funded, blew a hole in the side of the destroyer, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 others.

Al-Nashiri was the mastermind behind a foiled plot this year to bomb U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, authorities say.

He also is believed to have been a main player in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded 4,500 others in August 1998.

His cousin, investigators said, carried out the suicide attack on the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

Al-Nashiri, who is in his 30s, would rank among the top 10 of al Qaeda's leadership, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.  His arrest is comparable in importance to Binalshibh's recent apprehension, Bergen said.

"Eventually, if these arrests keep going at this rate, they will start getting some of the real top people," Bergen said.

U.S. officials had said last Friday that the United States had a senior al Qaeda leader in custody but did not release his name.

They have been reluctant to share details of al-Nashiri's capture, worried that if his identity and the country in which he was caught became public knowledge, their investigation might be compromised.

Different names, different operations

Born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, al-Nashiri has operated under several aliases, according to officials, and it was under a fictitious name that he engineered the Cole assault.

It was after the embassy bombings that al-Nashiri -- calling himself Mohammed Omar al-Harazi at the time -- called conspirators in Yemen with a proposal to attack a U.S. warship, a U.S. investigator close to the case said.

U.S. and allied officials also have said that al-Nashiri has operated under the alias Abdul Rahman Hussein al-Nashari.

Like other top al Qaeda officials, including bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, he was one of the "Afghan Arabs" who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, officials said.