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Pakistan produces the goods, again
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - When US Central Command commander General John Abizaid visited Islamabad last week, his first priority was not Pakistan sending troops to Iraq, but the arrest of high-value al-Qaeda targets.

Almost magically, just days later, a Tanzanian al-Qaeda operative, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was arrested in the Punjab provincial city of Gujrat. He is wanted in the United States in connection with the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He was one of the United States' 22 most-wanted terrorists, and had a US$5 million bounty on his head.

Security experts close to the corridors of power in Pakistan tell Asia Times Online that as the November presidential elections in the US draw closer, more such dramatic - and timely - arrests can be expected. The announcement of Ghailani's arrest coincided with the Democratic Party's convention in Boston during which John Kerry was confirmed as challenger to President George W Bush.

According to the experts, Abizaid met with all top Pakistani officials and discussed plans to broaden the net for the arrest of foreigners in Pakistan from South Waziristan to all of the other six tribal agencies, as well as to the southwestern province of Balochistan.

The Pakistan army has launched two major offensives in South Waziristan this year in an attempt to capture foreign militants, managing only to stir resentment from the local tribespeople.

Already, though, under intense pressure from the US, Pakistan has handed over as many as 350 suspected al-Qaeda operators into US custody. Most have been low-ranking, but some important names are, according to Asia Times Online contacts, being held in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) safe houses to be presented at the right moment.

The contacts say that Pakistan's strategic circles see the high-value al-Qaeda operators as "bargaining chips" to ensure continued US support for President General Pervez Musharraf's de facto military rule in Pakistan. Had Pakistan handed over top targets such as Osama bin Laden, his deputy Dr Aiman al-Zawahir, Tahir Yuldash (leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and others - assuming it was in a position to do so - the military rulers would have lost their usefulness to the US in its "war on terror".

Information accessed by Asia Times Online traces the arrest of Ghailani to the earlier apprehension of one Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, alias Abu Talha. Khan, a computer engineer in his mid-20s, was arrested in Lahore. He had been wanted for some time and was thought to have been hiding in South Waziristan.

Documents, computers and reports allegedly uncovered in Khan's arrest led US officials this week to warn against a possible al-Qaeda attack against financial institutions in the US. However, subsequently some analysts in the US have claimed that much of the information that resulted from the arrest was compiled before the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said Monday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports apparently collected by al-Qaeda operatives had been "gathered in 2000 and 2001". But she added that information may have been updated as recently as January.

As one observer in Karachi commented, "Every second jihadi I know has a computer and is always busy checking information on buildings in the US - their height and width and their possible vulnerable areas - and it is their routine practice to make plans with computer graphics to bring down US buildings to the ground."

Nevertheless, in response to the perceived threat, US authorities have launched a huge search for terrorist operatives who might have helped conduct surveillance of the five main financial institutions in New York City, Newark, and Washington - Citigroup, the New York Stock Exchange, Prudential, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

According to news reports, tens of thousands of delivery records to the buildings in question will be scrutinized. Investigators also will question those who have had access to the architectural plans of the institutions' largest buildings, and former employees.

Khan, from Karachi, initially belonged to the banned Jaish-i-Mohammed, a militant outfit fighting in Kashmir. As a Jaish member, he went to Afghanistan during the Taliban period (1996-2001), where he acquired extensive military training in Arab camps and became acquainted with several prominent Arab fighters. He also met Amjad Hussain Farooqui, a member of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a banned group of sectarian assassins who target Shi'ite Muslims. At this point Khan entered the underworld.

After the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, many foreign al-Qaeda members such as Ghailani fled to Pakistan's tribal areas, where they either made their way on to their home countries or decided to stay.

Ghailani ended up in South Waziristan, where he remained, but in the face of the two Pakistan army operations there, he was forced to flee, and with the help of Khan and others ended up in Gujrat. Khan's attempts to contact a travel agent in Lahore to smuggle Ghailani and his family out of the country apparently led to his arrest - his satellite telephone calls were intercepted by intelligence agencies. After two weeks of interrogation, Khan pointed the way to Ghailani's hideout.

The next 'target'?
Dr Aafia Siddiqui, in her mid-30s, has a PhD in neurological sciences from the US. She is believed to have Pakistani and US nationality. She is wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as an "al-Qaeda operative and facilitator" and in connection with "possible terrorist threats" in the US. September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (caught in Pakistan) is believed to have told authorities about Aafia.

She disappeared, with her three children, a few months ago in Pakistan. Asia Times Online sources claim that she is in the custody of the ISI. All calls by her family and humanitarian groups for her to be produced in court have been ignored.

Acquaintances of Aafia say she was an ISI contact and played an active role as a "relief worker" in Chechnya and Bosnia - a role the government now does not want to reveal. She has also been connected with different Arab non-governmental organizations in the US, through which she also helped to supply aid and funds to Chechens.

However Aafia's case turns out, doubtless a number of al-Qaeda operators are already in detention in Pakistan to be produced when and as necessary.

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Aug 4, 2004

Pakistan caught in terror tit-for-tat
(Jul 31, '04)

US paints Pakistan further in a corner
(Jul 28, '04)


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