Bin Laden Death Means Most Sept. 11 Terror Conspirators Killed or Captured
When President Barack Obama visits the site of the Sept. 11 terror attacks tomorrow, he’ll be able to say that with the death of Osama bin Laden the U.S. has caught or killed almost everyone allegedly responsible for the carnage.
Now U.S. authorities will aim to capture the last major figure involved in the attacks who remains free, Ayman al- Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader. Information on computers and other items taken from the compound where bin Laden was hiding, combined with questioning of current detainees, may help lead them to Zawahiri and new al-Qaeda leaders.
“We have vowed, rightfully so, to track down the people responsible for 9/11," said James Lindsay, the director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. ‘‘People like Zawahiri are potentially more dangerous in operational terms than bin Laden. He’s often referred to as the brains behind al-Qaeda.’’
The U.S. is holding seven alleged conspirators in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two others were killed in Afghanistan in 2001, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Alexandria, Virginia. In addition to Zawahiri, two other alleged conspirators identified by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, remain at large.
$25 Million Reward
Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who distributes video messages to bring followers into his radical interpretation of Islam that legitimizes suicide bombers, is believed to be hiding in Southwest Pakistan or Afghanistan, said White House intelligence adviser John Brennan in an interview on National Public Radio. The U.S. government is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his apprehension or conviction.
Zawahiri was indicted in the U.S. before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for the August, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people.
He’s listed as one of the ‘‘Most Wanted Terrorists’’ by the FBI, which doesn’t have information about his height, weight or build.
The success in tracking down bin Laden doesn’t guarantee it will be easier to find Zawahiri, intelligence experts said.
‘‘They’re sifting through tons of information that comes across their desks,” Lindsay said. “It’s like being in a jigsaw puzzle factory where you’re getting a lot of pieces but you’re not sure they go with the puzzle you’re working on.”
Intelligence officials are likely watching closely any locations where they think Zawahiri or other al-Qaeda officials may be hiding “because if you kill Osama bin Laden there might be potential that your guy may move, or there may be a flurry of activity there,” he said.
Two other men listed as conspirators by the 9/11 commission, Zakariya Essabar and Mushabib al Hamlan, are still at large.
With bin Laden and most of the organizers of al-Qaeda’s largest attack dead or captured, the organization is weakened. “No one can replace bin Laden. He achieved cult-like status,” said Rick Nelson, director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Still, many lower level operatives are likely to try, he said.
‘Bury the Rest’
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said more than half of al-Qaeda has essentially been eliminated, even though some have been replaced.
“We’re hoping to bury the rest of al-Qaeda along with bin Laden,” Brennan said at a briefing this week. “This does not mean that we are putting down our guard as far as al-Qaeda is concerned. It may be a mortally wounded tiger that still has some life in it, and it’s dangerous, and we need to keep up the pressure.”
Bin Laden was killed May 1 by U.S. commandos in a raid in Pakistan almost 10 years after orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attack that killed almost 3,000 people. The 19 men who hijacked the four airliners and flew them into the two World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania were killed.
Another 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is awaiting a military trial along with four of his fellow planners, Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Al-Hawsawi, at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two other alleged planners are being held at the base and two were reported killed in Afghanistan by GlobalSecurity.org.
The only person tried for the attacks was Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to life in prison. Moussaoui said he was part of the plot to fly planes into buildings but was foiled because he was arrested in August, 2001, on immigration violations. He then lied to federal officials about the attack plans.
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