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Archive for Monday, August 9, 2004

Senior al-Qaida leader captured, turned over to Pakistan

August 9, 2004

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— In a new blow to al-Qaida, authorities in the United Arab Emirates captured and turned over to Pakistan a senior operative in Osama bin Laden's terror network who trained thousands of militants for combat, the information minister said Sunday.

The man, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, was secretly flown to the eastern city of Lahore, where he was being interrogated, a Pakistani intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has arrested about 20 al-Qaida suspects in less than a month, including a top figure sought by the United States. The arrests prompted a series of raids in Britain and uncovered past al-Qaida surveillance in the United States.

Akhtar used to run a vast terror camp in Rishkhor, Afghanistan, that was visited by bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar. The camp -- a sprawling complex of shattered barracks and dusty fields about 10 miles south of the capital, Kabul -- trained 3,500 men in combat skills, including assassination and kidnapping.

Akhtar disappeared in the hours before the United States started bombing Afghanistan in October 2001 and had not been heard from since.

"Yes, we can confirm that we have Qari Saifullah," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press.

He said Akhtar was arrested "in the past week" in Dubai and then turned over to Pakistan, but he would not give any details concerning the arrest.

Officials in Dubai had no comment.

In Washington, the head of the White House's office of counter-terrorism said Akhtar's arrest was significant, and that he was believed involved in two December attempts to assassinate Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The arrest is "very important, particularly for Pakistan," Fran Townsend said on "Fox News Sunday."

"He's wanted in connection with the two assassination attempts on President Musharraf. He was also involved in the training camps in Afghanistan," Townsend said.

Asked if Akhtar is believed to be someone currently operational, Townsend said, "Absolutely. Absolutely."

But Ahmed, the information minister, said it was "premature" to link Akhtar to the assassination attempts.

Akhtar is said to have been active in several militant groups, including the Harakat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami, whose Muslim fighters have fought as far afield as Chechnya and Bosnia.

Pakistan's Geo television reported Sunday that authorities had arrested Kashmiri militant Maulana Fazl-ur Rahman Khalil on charges he was sending militants to Afghanistan to join the Taliban.

Khalil is said to be the leader of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, a group linked to one of several Kashmiri militant groups banned by Musharraf.

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