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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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.
'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
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
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
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