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Pakistan, US Officials Question Key Suspect in Sept. 11 Attacks - 2002-09-14

Pakistani and U.S. officials are questioning a prime suspect in the planning of last year's terrorist attacks on the United States.

The suspect, identified as Ramzi Binalshibh, is being detained at a secret location in the southern city of Karachi. He was captured there along with several other suspects after a gunfight that lasted several hours on Wednesday. Pakistani security forces raided their hideout, following a tip from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Pakistan Interior Ministry, in a statement issued Saturday, said, this week, it arrested 12 foreigners in Karachi in several raids. Two suspects were killed. According to the statement, two of the detainees are suspected of being high level al-Qaida members.

Mr. Binalshibh is identified as a 30-year-old Yemeni national. U.S. officials describe his arrest as a significant development in the effort to destroy the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Mr. Binalshibh is said to have tried to enter the United States before the September 11 terrorist attacks, but was repeatedly denied a visa. American authorities say he shared a house in Germany with Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the attacks on the U.S. cities.

Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider told reporters in Karachi that Mr. Binalshibh is still being interrogated and that the government may hand him over to Washington.

"Many of these people, if they are wanted by the U.S. government, there is an international law that we have to share information," he explained, "and if somebody requires those persons for crimes against their countries, we are supposed to hand over those people. We are obliged to cooperate."

A large number of al-Qaida militants are thought to be hiding in Pakistan, after fleeing U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Mr. Haider says Pakistani security forces are making all efforts to prevent al-Qaida fighters from entering Pakistan.

"The environment in Afghanistan for them has become unfriendly to stay there. So, they are crossing [the] border, and trying to reach anywhere they can," he said. " But the good thing is that we normally get hold of them at our border. In case they come deeper inside [Pakistan], our agencies and our law enforcers are in a position to reach them. It's a matter of time only."

Pakistani authorities say they have detained some 400 of suspected al-Qaida members in the past year. They have extradited a number of them to the United States.