Rumsfeld says captured al-Qaida operative is `fountain of knowledge' about terror group

Friday, April 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The most senior al-Qaida member in U.S. custody is a ``fountain of knowledge'' about Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization but it is unclear how much he will reveal, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday.

Abu Zubaydah, a top al-Qaida planner and recruiter, suffered several bullet wounds during a Pakistani raid in which he and dozens of others were captured last month. He is under U.S. control at an undisclosed location.

Rumsfeld said Abu Zubaydah developed infections as a result of gunshot wounds but is likely to survive.

``He is recovering,'' Rumsfeld said in an interview with MSNBC. ``Most of his (health) problems are behind him at this stage.''

Rumsfeld said Abu Zubaydah knows a great deal about al-Qaida's operations but has been too ill to talk much.

``He just hasn't turned the spigot on yet,'' he said. ``What we'll be able to get out of him remains to be seen.''

Later, in an interview with Pentagon reporters, Rumsfeld indicated that Abu Zubaydah has responded to interrogation.

``He had holes in him and he had some infection and he was not in great shape,'' Rumsfeld said. ``He obviously talked. People ask him questions and he says this, that and the other thing. Has he started to give intelligence? I would assume so. Anything useful? Not clear yet.''

Rumsfeld said he assumes Abu Zubaydah will stand trial for his role in terrorist activities, but he did not elaborate.

On Thursday, the U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks said he believes bin Laden eventually will be killed or captured but it could take years.

``Even the very best law enforcement capabilities ... will find that sometimes it takes years to find a single person,'' Franks said in a question-and-answer session with international reporters.

Reviewing progress on the military front, Franks said Afghanistan remains a dangerous place for U.S. and coalition troops, and he saw no quick end to the tribal rivalries that make the country unstable and insecure.

``The frictions will continue,'' he said.

Franks said he does not know bin Laden's whereabouts but assumes he is alive. There have been no indications of bin Laden's whereabouts since December, when he apparently was in eastern Afghanistan.

``I have not seen evidence that bin Laden is dead, so I must believe he is still alive,'' he said.

Of the most senior people in bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, the only one known to have been killed is Mohammed Atef, the Egyptian who was military commander of al-Qaida. He was killed in an airstrike.

Still at large, despite U.S. and Afghan efforts to find him, is Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the deposed Taliban militia that ran Afghanistan and gave haven to the al-Qaida leadership.

Franks said he could not predict how long it would take to capture bin Laden and his most senior lieutenants.

``You're talking about some personalities who do not want to be found,'' he said, adding that in rugged Afghanistan it is possible for them to remain in hiding for ``some period of time.''

``But I can tell you these people are on the run. And when they are on the run that is good for the people on this planet who oppose terrorism. Will we get them? We will get them. But I don't think any of us will predict a time.''

In a related matter, Franks disclosed that a preliminary investigation of the crash Wednesday of an Army Apache helicopter in Afghanistan found that it probably was caused by mechanical failure.

He said the two crew members, who were seriously injured in the crash, were rescued by the crew of a second Apache helicopter. The two choppers were returning from a mission northeast of Kandahar.

Franks said the Apache was destroyed in the crash. An official at the Pentagon said U.S. forces returned to the crash site and blew up the remains of the chopper on Thursday.