Karachi captive is taken into custody by US

 

US: The man alleged by US authorities to have been the 20th hijacker, Mr Ramzi Binalshibh, has been taken into US custody.

Mr Binalshibh, the Yemeni who may be the one surviving member of the al-Qaeda team that carried out the September 11th attacks, according to the FBI, was captured last week in Karachi, Pakistan.

He has now reportedly been flown out of the country.

The US Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, said at a Pentagon briefing yesterday that it was up to President Bush to decide whether Mr Binalshibh would face a military tribunal.

He did not believe that Mr Bush, who was fund-raising for Republican candidates yesterday, had yet made that decision.

He would not disclose where the suspect was being detained. "I don't want to get into that," said Mr Rumsfeld when reporters posed the question.

Earlier reports suggested that he was being held on a US warship off Pakistan.

He could be moved either to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba with other al-Qaeda suspects or to a military prison in the US.

Mr Binalshibh was caught after a shoot-out in Karachi last week in which two people were killed. Initial reports indicated that he had been transferred to a US warship.

It is being claimed that he may have knowledge of the murder of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent who was killed in Pakistan earlier this year. This would be the first linkage of al-Qaeda to the killing.

The Pakistani Interior Minister, Mr Moinuddin Haider, said in Karachi yesterday that his country was ready to allow the extradition of Mr Binalshibh to the US once the necessary legal procedures had been completed, even though this was likely to be an unpopular decision with many Pakistanis.

"Pakistan is obliged under international law to hand over the suspect to the country where they are wanted," Mr Haider said. "But there is a legal procedure for such an extradition and that would be followed."

Mr Binalshibh is alleged to have been a former flatmate in Hamburg of the leader of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, and a key member of the al-Qaeda cell based in the German city of Hamburg.

He is suspected of having played a major role in the planning of September 11th, and it is claimed that it was only because he was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US that he did not take his place as a hijacker.

The focus on him may also have relevance to the coming trial of Mr Zacarias Moussaoui, who had previously been described as the "20th hijacker".

Mr Moussaoui has denied involvement in the September 11th attacks but was routinely called the 20th hijacker until the emergence of Mr Binalshibh.

The Yemeni has also been sought by the German government, which had issued an international arrest warrant for him. At the weekend, however, the German authorities indicated that they were prepared to waive their rights in favour of the United States.

Meanwhile, a sixth US citizen of Yemeni descent was charged on Monday in the US with providing "material support" to al-Qaeda.

Although investigators said the man, and five others arrested over the weekend in western New York state, had no direct connection to the four aircraft hijacks, they alleged that the six were trained to use assault rifles and other weapons in an al-Qaeda-run camp in Afghanistan.

An FBI special agent, Mr Peter Ahearn, told a news conference in Buffalo that authorities had brought the man, identified as Mr Mukhtar al-Bakri (22), to a jail in Batavia, New York, from the Gulf state of Bahrain on Sunday night.

- (Guardian Service, Reuters)