Two high-value al-Qaida targets among new arrests in Pakistan
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan has arrested two "high-level" al-Qaida terrorists, one with a multimillion-dollar U.S. bounty on his head, widening a sweep against al-Qaida's vast web of operatives that has netted at least six suspects, officials said Tuesday.
Among those detained in the past two days were a policeman accused of passing information to al-Qaida militants, a Syrian arrested at a bus stop, and a man carrying suspicious documents who was seized trying to fly out of the country.
Officials said the suspects are believed to be linked to a militant already in custody who provided crucial intelligence leading to the arrest of a top fugitive last week and to Washington's issuing a warning Sunday of threats to U.S. financial institutions.
Pakistan's interior minister said the arrest of the high-ranking targets in eastern Punjab province was a major break only days after intelligence agents caught Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the Tanzanian sought by U.S. officials for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.
"In addition to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, whose bounty was $25 million, we have captured another most-wanted suspect with a bounty on him running into the millions of dollars," Faisal Saleh Hayyat told reporters in the capital.
He said both men were of African origin but refused to identify them or their nationalities.
Four Egyptians and a Libyan on the FBI's list of 22 most-wanted terrorists are believed to be in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Each has a $5 million bounty on his head in connection with the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. There are two Kenyans on the list, though they were not believed to be hiding in the region.
Osama bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, is from Egypt. He and the al-Qaida chief are believed to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghan border, far from Punjab province.
The arrests have come with stunning swiftness since the capture in Karachi on July 13 of an al-Qaida computer expert identified as Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was allegedly sending coded e-mails to other operatives. An intelligence official said Khan led authorities to Ghailani, who was captured after a 12-hour gunbattle in the eastern city of Gujrat.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Ghailani's home computers contained e-mails with instructions for attacks in the United States and Britain.
Intelligence gained from Khan's and other arrests was a major factor in U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's decision to issue a warning Sunday about a possible al-Qaida attack on prominent financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J.
Pakistani officials are also pointing to the arrest in June of Masrab Arochi, the nephew of former al-Qaida No. 3 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, as providing useful intelligence. Arochi was arrested along with nine others in raids in Karachi.
An intelligence official in the capital, Islamabad, said Arochi led police to a network of other operatives and that several as yet undisclosed arrests have been made. He said Arochi has been made available to U.S. intelligence agents, though Pakistan has promised not to turn him over to the United States.
Meanwhile, the police chief who led the raid that caught Ghailani told The Associated Press he received several threatening calls in on his cell phone warning him not to take action against the al-Qaida suspect -- even as his men were storming the building.
"They said 'The people inside the house are serving Islam and any harm to them will be dangerous for you,"' Police Chief Raja Munawar Hussain said the caller warned. "They were highly organized terrorists. They were so well informed that they remained in touch with their men (on the outside) during the raid."
Hussain said police also arrested a Pakistani who acted as a front man for Ghailani, leasing a car and opening a bank account for him.
The announcement that two top terror operatives were in custody came within hours of news that at least six al-Qaida suspects have been arrested in separate raids:
--Two Pakistanis and a foreigner were arrested on a road near Lahore. Police found five grenades and two AK-47 rifles in their sports utility vehicle, a high-ranking intelligence official told AP.
--Mohammed Salman Eisa, alias Ibrahim, was captured at Lahore airport Monday night while boarding a flight to the United Arab Emirates, a senior intelligence official in the eastern city told AP. The official said Eisa was believed to be Nigerian, but it was not clear if he was one of the top suspects. There are no Nigerians on the FBI most-wanted list.
--Raja Waqar, a policeman assigned to the office of Punjab province's top politician, is suspected of passing al-Qaida linked groups information on the whereabouts of top government officials, Lahore police chief Tariq Salim Dogar told the AP.
"The previous record of the policeman shows that he has been involved in jihadi activities and had links with al-Qaida. We have initiated a probe to find out how he managed to get posted to such a sensitive place," Dogar said.
--Another suspect, arrested Sunday at a bus station in a town near Lahore, identified himself as Juma Ibrahim, a Syrian, said district police chief Aslam Ghauri. He said Ibrahim was turned over to Pakistan's spy agency.
It was not immediately clear if any of the six militants described by Pakistani officials included the two senior al-Qaida men that Hayyat said were wanted by the United States.
Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Asif Shahzad in Lahore contributed to this report.