- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan has arrested two “high-level” al Qaeda terrorists, one with a multimillion dollar U.S. bounty on his head, widening a sweep against the group’s vast web of operatives that has netted at least six suspects, officials said yesterday.

Among those detained in the past two days were a policeman accused of passing information to al Qaeda militants, a Syrian arrested at a bus stop and a man carrying suspicious documents who was seized trying to fly out of the country.

Officials said the suspects are thought to be linked to a militant already in custody, who provided crucial intelligence leading to the arrest of a top fugitive last week and to Washington’s warning on Sunday of terror threats to U.S. financial institutions.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday the government concluded “it was essential” to publicize detailed surveillance documents and raise the terror alert, even though the intelligence information dated from as far back as 2000.

Speaking at a press conference in New York, Mr. Ridge said because of the heightened security steps, “We have made it much more difficult for the terrorists to achieve their broad objectives.”

Even though much of the material was dated, some of the al Qaeda surveillance data on potential targets had been updated as late as January, U.S. officials said.

Pakistan’s interior minister said yesterday that the latest arrests of high-ranking targets in eastern Punjab province marked another major break, coming just days after intelligence agents caught Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the Tanzanian sought by U.S. officials in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

“In addition to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, whose bounty was $25 million, we have captured another most-wanted suspect with a bounty on him running into the millions of dollars,” Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat told reporters in Islamabad.

He said both men were of African origin, but refused to identify them or their nationalities.

Four Egyptians and a Libyan on the FBI’s list of 22 most-wanted terrorists are thought to be in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Each has a $5 million bounty on his head in connection with the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. There are two Kenyans on the list, although they were not thought to be hiding in the region.

Osama bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, is from Egypt. He and the al Qaeda chief are thought to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghan border, far from Punjab province.

The arrests have come with stunning swiftness since the capture in Karachi on July 13 of an al Qaeda computer expert identified as Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was sending coded e-mails to other operatives.

An intelligence official said Khan led authorities to Ghailani, who was captured after a 12-hour gunbattle in the eastern city of Gujrat.

Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed said Ghailani’s home computers contained e-mails with instructions for attacks in the United States and Britain.

Intelligence gained from the arrests of Khan and others was a major factor in Mr. Ridge’s decision to issue a warning on Sunday about an al Qaeda plan to attack prominent financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J.

Pakistani officials also are pointing to the arrest in June of Masrab Arochi, the nephew of former al Qaeda No. 3 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, as providing useful intelligence. Arochi was arrested along with nine others in raids in Karachi.

An intelligence official in Islamabad, said Arochi led police to a network of other operatives and that several as-yet undisclosed arrests have been made. He said Arochi has been made available to U.S. intelligence agents, although Pakistan has promised not to turn him over to the United States.

Meanwhile, the police chief who led the raid that caught Ghailani told the Associated Press he received several threatening calls on his cell phone warning him not to take action against the al Qaeda suspect — even as his men were storming the building.

“They said ‘The people inside the house are serving Islam and any harm to them will be dangerous for you,’ ” police Chief Raja Munawar Hussain said the caller warned. “They were highly organized terrorists. They were so well-informed that they remained in touch with their men [on the outside] during the raid.”

Chief Hussain said police also arrested a Pakistani who acted as a front man for Ghailani, leasing a car and opening a bank account for him.

The announcement that two top terror operatives were in custody came within hours of news that at least six al Qaeda suspects have been arrested in separate raids:

• Two Pakistanis and a foreigner were arrested on a road near Lahore. Police found five grenades and two AK-47 rifles in their sports utility vehicle, a high-ranking intelligence official said.

• Mohammed Salman Eisa, alias Ibrahim, was captured at the Lahore airport on Monday night while boarding a flight to the United Arab Emirates, a senior intelligence official in the eastern city said. The official said Eisa was thought to be Nigerian, but it was not clear whether he was one of the top suspects. There are no Nigerians on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

• Raja Waqar, a policeman assigned to the office of Punjab province’s top politician, is suspected of passing al Qaeda-linked groups information on the whereabouts of top government officials, Lahore Police Chief Tariq Salim Dogar said.

“The previous record of the policeman shows that he has been involved in jihadi activities and had links with al Qaeda. We have initiated a probe to find out how he managed to get posted to such a sensitive place,” Chief Dogar said.

• A sixth suspect, arrested Sunday at a bus station in a town near Lahore, identified himself as Juma Ibrahim, a Syrian, said district police Chief Aslam Ghauri. He said Ibrahim was turned over to Pakistan’s spy agency.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the six militants described by Pakistani officials included the two senior al Qaeda men that Mr. Hayyat said were wanted by the United States.

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