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'Severe Blow' To Al Qaeda

Attorney General John Ashcroft, left, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, center, and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the terrorism battle, Tuesday, March 4, 2003 on Capitol Hill.
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In a change of tone from their usual dire terrorist warnings, the administration's top security officials told senators Tuesday that the war on terrorism is being won.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General John Ashcroft stated flatly that the U.S. is "winning the war against terrorism." And FBI Director Robert Mueller said that more than 100 planned terrorist attacks worldwide had been thwarted since Sept. 11.

Ashcroft cited the weekend arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man he called "the brain of al Qeada." He called it "a severe blow to al Qaeda that could destabilize their terrorist network worldwide."

Ashcroft said that next to Osama bin Laden, "Mohammed was the FBI's most wanted terrorist."

Intelligence officials over the weekend captured Mohammed, operations chief for bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, in Pakistan.

Pakistan confirmed Tuesday that the alleged 9/11 mastermind captured over the weekend with great help from the Pakistanis has been flown out of the country and is in U.S. custody in a secret location.

As it turns out, there was a bonus gift inside that Rawalpindi villa where Pakistani and U.S. officials captured Mohammed. Hiding in the same house was one of al Qaeda's top finance officers as well, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.

His name is Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi, the man who kept wiring money to hijacker Mohammed Atta and kept the hijackers flush with cash up until the day of the attacks.

FBI agents learned about Al-Hawsawi soon after the attacks by backtracking money transfers from his offices in Dubai to addresses in Florida, New York and Germany.

After 9-11 he is suspected of traveling extensively and setting up bogus aid groups in Pakistan and elsewhere to aid al Qaeda.

Ashcroft also announced the January arrests of a Yemeni cleric who officials said secretly raised money and recruited troops for al Qaeda and Hamas. A complaint unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., charges Sheik Mohammed Ali Hasan al-Moayad with providing material support to a terrorist network.

"The FBI undercover operation developed information that al-Moayad personally handed Osama bin Laden $20 million from his terrorist funding network," Ashcroft said.

Al-Moayad, and his assistant, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, were arrested Jan. 10 in a sting operation at a hotel near Frankfurt airport in Germany. U.S. authorities consider al-Moayad's arrest a blow to Muslim charities used as fronts to finance terrorism.

While bin Laden is more internationally known, Mohammed "was the operational mastermind," said FBI Director Mueller. "His terrorist plots are believed to include the 1993 World Trade Center, the USS Cole bomb delivered by boat and the September 11 terrorist attacks delivered by air, having resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people," he said.

"The apprehension of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is just one more success in a string of successes by you and others in the law enforcement and intelligence community aimed at disrupting and eliminating al Qaeda from the face of this earth," Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said.

But Democrats and some Republicans have become highly critical of administration efforts to ensure against new terror attacks and to round up al Qaeda operatives in the nearly 18 months since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Just last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, all Judiciary Committee members, issued a report contending that the FBI and Justice Department had done a poor job with a law permitting broad new surveillance of suspected terrorists or foreign spies.

"Sept. 11 might well have been prevented," Specter said. "What are they doing now to prevent another 9/11?"

Leahy, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and other Democrats say they've been asking Justice officials for months for their ideas on expanding the anti-terrorism statutes but have been rebuffed. Leahy said a Justice official told one of his staffers that no new law was being crafted, less than a week before what appeared to be a leaked copy of a new draft anti-terrorism proposal was posted on the Internet by The Center for Public Integrity.

"Somebody who reports directly to you lied to her and this is not a good thing," Leahy said. "I think it shows a secretive process in developing this."

Ashcroft said he would respond later to Leahy's charge "that there are individuals in the Justice Department that have been lying."

Ashcroft said earlier that no decisions have been made on a final proposal for an anti-terrorism expansion, although officials were working with "a full range of ideas."