Pakistan holds al-Qaida suspects after big raid

Saturday, October 4, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Authorities questioned 18 al-Qaida suspects Friday, trying to determine the identities and loyalties of the men captured in Pakistan's largest raid against Osama bin Laden's terror network.

It was not yet known if any top-ranking al-Qaida figures were among the captured, three of whom were wounded in Thursday's battle at a compound in the dusty hills of South Waziristan, a rugged tribal area on the Afghan border.

Interrogators sought to find out the men's names and nationalities, what links they had to al-Qaida and what contacts -- if any -- they've had with bin Laden, an intelligence official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. Pakistani officials had earlier said that many of the men appeared to have Central Asian features.

The interrogators will also focus on whether the group included any fighters from the Taliban, the regime ousted from neighboring Afghanistan by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001.

Colombian rebels claim hit on drug-spraying plane

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombia's smaller rebel army said it shot down a State Department plane that crashed last month, killing its Costa Rican pilot, while fumigating cocaine-producing crops.

It was the first claim of responsibility in the Sept. 21 downing of the OV-10 plane in northeastern Colombia. Mario Alvarado, the pilot, was the sixth U.S. government contractor killed in Colombia this year.

The claim by the National Liberation Army, seen Friday, was posted on the insurgent group's Web site.

The State Department earlier acknowledged the plane apparently was "struck by hostile ground fire" during operations in Catatumbo, a mountainous and jungle-covered region near the Venezuelan border.

The statement from the ELN, as the rebel group is known, said that from Sept. 12 to 20, its fighters also shot and hit two other spray planes and two military helicopters that protect the planes. One of the helicopters had to make an emergency landing after being struck by rebel gunfire, the ELN said.

WHO reduces death toll from SARS virus

GENEVA -- Taiwan has almost halved its figures for the number of people infected with the SARS virus and ruled that many previously reported deaths were caused by other factors, the U.N. health agency said Friday.

The World Health Organization said the change in data from Taiwan meant the global death toll from several acute respiratory syndrome is now officially 774. In August it had reported a figure of 916.

"Everybody is going back to re-examine what is happening because we have finally got some breathing time," said WHO spokesman Dick Thompson.

He said there are two tests for SARS, but the more reliable one, which identifies antibodies in the blood, can't be used until about 20 days after infection so doctors cannot use it to diagnose the illness.

The Taiwanese authorities tested stored samples from patients previously thought to have the disease and found more than 300 that didn't give a positive result from either test.

Taiwan now officially recognizes 346 SARS cases and 37 deaths, compared with earlier figures, from August, of 665 cases and 180 deaths, according to the WHO Web site. In July, the country reported 671 cases and 84 deaths, the WHO Web site said.

-- From wire reports

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