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US Lawmakers Praise Capture of al-Qaida Leader - 2003-03-02

U.S. lawmakers are praising the capture in Pakistan of an alleged top al-Qaida leader as a major coup. The American legislators say the suspect could reveal information about terrorists and terrorist plots.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts described Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the "operations manager" of al-Qaida. "If there is one person we wanted to get, this was the man," he said.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was apprehended Saturday in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Senator Roberts said the capture is a serious blow to a spring offensive he says al-Qaida was planning for Afghanistan. He added that he believes al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden may be hiding in the mountainous area nearby.

"It would not surprise me a bit," he said. "I think in that no-man's land between Pakistan and Afghanistan, almost a medieval situation [exists], 12,000 feet [3,600 meters] high, very difficult to locate people of this type and in this terrain."

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Porter Goss, told ABC television he believes the operation could soon lead to other concrete results.

"What we can learn from him, I hope, because this is a process he may not participate [in] too willingly, basically what operations are out there that we can defend against and forestall, [that] we can totally disrupt. We have had great success at that already, but this gives us, obviously, more focus and more clarity on what to look at," he said.

Congressman Goss would not give details as to what activities have been planned for the future. "We do not want to give away anything. We have been pretty darn good about keeping our methods and our successes behind the scenes quiet, so that we can capitalize on them, and this is a perfect example of that," he said.

Both lawmakers were briefed about the capture, but neither would say where the suspect is being held.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer Saturday thanked Pakistan for its cooperation in apprehending the 37-year-old al-Qaida suspect. Mr. Fleischer described him as the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, and accused him of plotting more attacks since then.