It was meant to be a simple raid to roust some "illegal settlers." On March 27 Tsadiqui Hussain, the lean and weary police chief of Faisalabad, Pakistan, was told by superiors that his officers were needed for some routine arrests. Hussain didn't think much of it. Faisalabad, in the center of Punjab province, is a humming mill town, and illegal immigrants are always turning up there in search of work. But shortly after midnight, some unexpected visitors came striding into Hussain's colonial-era office. They were members of Pakistani military intelligence, accompanied by American CIA and FBI personnel wearing bulletproof vests. This was hardly routine.
Among the "illegal settlers," Hussain was told, was a Middle Easterner of particular interest to the U.S. In the police chief's office, with its vaulted ceilings, the Americans passed around a sheaf of photocopies, each bearing a photograph of a thirtyish Arab with wire-rimmed glasses and furtive, intense eyes. Next to the photo were drawings of how the suspect might look with long hair, with a goatee or clean shaven.
The hunted man was Abu Zubaydah, 31, the Saudi-born Palestinian who helped assemble the inner mechanisms of Osama bin Laden's worldwide terror network. If anyone knows where bin Laden is hiding--or where al-Qaeda sleeper cells are lying dormant inside the U.S.--it is this trusted lieutenant. As al-Qaeda's chief of operations and top recruiter, Zubaydah could provide the names of terrorists around the world and which targets they planned to hit.
But first he had to be caught. Hussain's orders were "to capture the suspects alive at all costs," which wouldn't be easy. U.S. intelligence showed that more than a dozen terrorist suspects were staying in perhaps nine Faisalabad safe houses. They were fanatical, probably armed with guns and grenades.
U.S. and Pakistani intelligence were not sure which of the houses might be harboring Zubaydah. During their month-long stay in Faisalabad, the al-Qaeda agents seldom, if ever, left their houses, even to pray at nearby mosques. But telephone and computer wiretaps had given the agents a strong hunch that Zubaydah was hiding in Shabaz Cottage, a monolithic gray villa in the suburb of Faisal Town. With high stone walls topped by vines of barbed and electric wires, the three-story place was bounded on two sides by grassy fields, which afforded a good view of anyone approaching.
Should the raiding party burst into the compound and risk a shoot-out, or surround the place and wait for the suspects to surrender? Hussain couldn't decide. In the end, his men did both. At 3 a.m., more than 100 police crept up to Shabaz Cottage. In case the suspects escaped, Hussain also mounted 40 police checkpoints on all the main roads in Faisalabad; each had Zubaydah's photo.
Clipping the electric wires above the gate, the assault team spidered over, then subdued three guards asleep in the garage. "We gave warning to surrender," Hussain says. There was no response, so the cops broke down the door and rushed in. Zubaydah and three other Arabs grabbed money and fake Saudi passports and raced up the central staircase to the roof, with the police in hot pursuit. The al-Qaeda men were cornered.