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Key arrests give boost to US antiterror efforts

Officials hope five Buffalo men, as well as an Al Qaeda higher-up in Pakistan, will help identify other operatives.

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Step by meticulous step, US law-enforcement and intelligence officials are chipping away at Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

Ramzi Binalshibh, believed to have been the original 20th hijacker last year and a key planner of those attacks, was arrested last week in Pakistan. Then, over the weekend, FBI officials broke up an Al Qaeda terrorist cell in upstate New York.

The arrests of Mr. Binalshibh and the five US citizens of Yemeni descent represent a breakthrough for law-enforcement officials. Binalshibh, who recently boasted of his role in the 9/11 attacks in an interview aired on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television station, could help officials definitively piece together the steps the group took up to 9/11. He also could help identify other key players and their locations, including those in support cells in the US and those higher up in Al Qaeda.

"Let's just say things are still dynamic, still moving," says one intelligence official.

Although this represents a major step, the arrests also show how widely disbursed Al Qaeda's cells are, and highlight the threat they continue to pose.

At Camp David over the weekend, President Bush emphasized the US determination in stopping the group that launched the worst terror attack on the US in history. "One by one, we are hunting the killers down," he said. "We are relentless, we are strong, and we are not going to stop."

The breakthrough arrests also herald an unprecedented amount of cooperation – among both US intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, and their foreign counterparts. "I've never seen it so good," says one senior law-enforcement official.

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