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Key al-Qaida Figure Arrested in Asia

Key al-Qaida Figure Arrested in Asia

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ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) -- The White House announced Thursday the capture of a man described as al-Qaida's chief representative and operational planner in Southeast Asia, calling his apprehension "a significant blow to the enemy."

He was identified as Riduan Bin Isomuddin, also known as Hambali.

"His capture is another important victory in the global war on terrorism and a significant blow to the enemy," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Bush flew from Texas to speaking engagements in southern California.

A senior administration official described the suspect as "one of the world's most lethal terrorists" and said his group, Jemaah Islamiya, was linked to last year's Bali bombing and a series of deadly church bombings in the Philippines.

He is also a leading suspect in the JW Marriot bombing in Jakarta and a close associate of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind who was captured earlier this year.

Hambali was captured in southeast Asia and is now in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, officials said.

Hambali is also connected the the Sept. 11 plot, although it's unclear how much of a direct role he played. Authorities say Hambali ordered one of his deputies to host meetings between two eventual Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, and another high-ranking al-Qaida figure, at his apartment in Malaysia in January 2000.

President Bush was informed of the capture in a videao conference call while on vacation at his Texas ranch.

The senior administration official, who discussed the situation on grounds of anonymity, said Hambali, earlier this year, received a "large sum of money for a major attack."

The money came from an al-Qaida leader in Pakistan, according to the official.

The official would not say whether that attack was thwarted or was still in planning, but said Hambali would be interrogated as "part of ongoing efforts to neutralize the threat."

The official called Hambali al-Qaida's "most important link to terrorist groups in southeast Asia," and said his capture "effectively diminishes the group's (al-Qaida's) lethal capability."

But the official added that al-Qaida remains a threat.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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