Pakistan captures al Qaeda suspect

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Unofficial report places al-Libbi in Mardan, about 30 miles north of Peshawar, at the time of his capture.

Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced Wednesday the capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, and five other suspected al-Qaeda militants, after a gun battle in Waziristan on Monday. Abu Faraj al-Libbi was wanted in connection with two attempts to assassinate Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, one on December 25, 2004.

Security officials said the Libyan born al-Libbi was thought to be a top general for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and acted as an operational commander in Pakistan. Ahmed told AP, "This arrest gives us a lot of tips, and I can only say that our security agencies are on the right track."

Ahmed, who called the capture "a very important day for us", said they are receiving more and more tips and are on the right track towards the eventual capture of bin Laden. Pakistan has put more pressure on its northwest region with a months-long build-up there. The region is believed by many to be where al-Qaeda members are holding out after they were pushed from Afghanistan.

U.S. President George Bush said of the capture: "I applaud the Pakistani government for its strong coöperation in the war on terror."

Musharraf has been a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, and because of that also an Islamic militant target. A BBC security correspondent said this is the biggest arrest since that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 2003 9/11 attack.

Although al-Libbi is not on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao stated that the United States had been offering a bounty of $10 million for information leading to al-Libbi's arrest. He refused to speculate upon whether the arrest would aid in the capture of bin Laden, saying that "We have no information" about the al Qaeda leaders, and "It's premature to say [whether this arrest will help in tracking them], but definitely interrogation is going to take place."

Sherpao also said that it was too early to say whether al-Libbi and Mohammed would be taken to the United States, or remain in undisclosed locations with other al-Qaeda detainees. He stressed that there were the attempted assassination cases pending against al-Libbi in Pakistan.

The United States is not the only country which lays claim to al-Libbi. He is wanted by Libya, where he has been sentenced to death (and whence he escaped in the 1980s), for assassination attempts on Colonel Qaddafi. He is also wanted by Afghanistan.