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Archive for Saturday, March 30, 2002

Pakistani authorities suspect key bin Laden lieutenant may have been captured

March 30, 2002

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— U.S. and Pakistani authorities are trying to determine whether an Arab arrested in raids here this week is a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, a senior police official said Saturday.

Sixty people, including 25 Arabs and four Afghans, were arrested Thursday in raids by Pakistani and American agents in Faisalabad and Lahore.

Police officials said one of those arrested bears a strong resemblance to Abu Zubaydah, bin Laden's senior field commander, who is believed to be trying to reorganize al-Qaida after the collapse of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

"We are trying to confirm the identity of one Arab who is believed to be Abu Zubaydah," Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a senior Interior Ministry official, told The Associated Press.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities were waiting for information from the United States before determining the man's identity. He did not elaborate.

If the detainee is Zubaydah, he would be the most important al-Qaida official captured by the U.S.-led coalition since military operations began in Afghanistan on Oct. 7.

Zubaydah, 30, is believed to have been born in Saudi Arabia but has strong ties in Palestine and Jordan. He's been sentenced to death in Jordan and is believed connected to many of al-Qaida's operations against U.S. interests.

Sources in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Zubaydah had fled to Pakistan and had effectively taken control of al-Qaida because it was too dangerous for bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, to communicate from their Afghan hide-outs.

Zubaydah was believed behind recent moves to reorganize and revive al-Qaida after its Taliban allies collapsed last year under relentless U.S. airstrikes and ground attacks by Afghans allied with the American-led coalition.

Pakistani newspapers and witnesses said the raids were carried out by mixed teams of Pakistani and American agents, who seized weapons, laptop computers and other documents. One suspect was killed and five people, including a policeman, were wounded.

The raids appeared linked to the investigation into the March 17 grenade attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad in which five people, including two Americans and the assailant, were killed.

The participation of American agents, however, is politically sensitive for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who reversed nearly 20 years of support for religious militants and joined the anti-terror coalition after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

On Saturday, Musharraf's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, denied that any Americans had participated in the raids. "This is totally incorrect and misleading," Quereshi said.

U.S. officials here and in Washington have refused to discuss the operation.

In a separate arrest, police in Punjab province arrested an extremist, Abdul Manan, who belonged to the Sunni Muslim militant Sipah-e-Sahaba movement. Pakistan Television said the man received training in Afghanistan and had been involved in several acts of terrorism.

Also Saturday, a Pakistani court asked the government to release Islamic leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who was detained three months ago in the crackdown on Muslim militants.

Saeed the former chief of the Kashmiri militant movement Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, was taken into custody in December after speaking out against the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

Pakistani law allows the government to hold detainees without charge for there months, and the detention period expired Friday.

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