- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

KARACHI, Pakistan — Intelligence officials who have been questioning Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the senior al Qaeda suspect arrested last week, have cast doubt over claims by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that the interrogation is “proceeding well.”

The officials say al-Libbi, who is thought to be al Qaeda’s No. 3 man, has defied efforts to make him reveal valuable intelligence about the group’s senior hierarchy, despite coming under physical pressure to do so.

More than a dozen low-key al Qaeda suspects were arrested in Pakistan last week, thanks to information stored on al-Libbi’s satellite telephone. Yet early hopes among both American and Pakistani intelligence officials that he would tell them the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have been dashed.

“So far he has not told us anything solid that could lead to the high-value targets,” a senior intelligence official told the Sunday Telegraph. “It is too early to judge whether he is a hard nut to crack or simply that he doesn’t know more than he has told us.”

Al-Libbi had been beaten and injected with the so-called “truth serum,” sodium pentathol, said the official.

“They have tried all possible methods, from the third degree to injecting him with a truth serum, but it is hard to break him,” he said.

Officials hope that in time, al-Libbi, 28, will tell them about forthcoming attacks, al Qaeda’s funding and its sophisticated coded communications network.

Mr. Aziz said Friday: “Certainly al-Libbi is a senior member of al Qaeda, and we were on the lookout for him for a while.”

The Pakistanis think that al-Libbi was behind attempts to assassinate their country’s president, Pervez Musharraf, as well as Mr. Aziz.

He also is thought to have been in charge of running al Qaeda “sleeper cells” in the United States and Britain. At least three Britain-based militants are thought to have traveled from London to Pakistan for talks with al-Libbi about future attacks in Britain.

He was on the run for more than three years before he was captured in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province after trying to flee security forces on a motorbike.

His choice of hide-outs had become increasingly limited. He suffers from the skin condition vitiligo, which results in the loss of skin color and can become chronic in hot weather. Although al-Libbi preferred to hide in big cities such as Karachi, where he could live in relative anonymity, the heat and humidity forced him to return to the tribal areas, where security forces are concentrated.

Pakistan has ruled out his immediate extradition to the United States and denies that American agents have been present at his questioning.

“Our own agencies are investigating him. No one else is involved for the time being,” said Brig. Gen. Javed Iqbal Cheema of the Interior Ministry.

A government minister, however, told the Sunday Telegraph on Friday that British intelligence officials may be allowed to join the interrogation.

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