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It was the most significant capture of a Haqqani leader in Afghanistan, and could dent the group’s ability to operate along the porous border with Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

Shortly after NATO’s announcement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied in a message to Afghan media that Khan had been arrested but provided no evidence that he was free.

NATO described Khan as an uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani, two sons of the network’s aging leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani.

“He was one of the highest ranking members of the Haqqani network and a revered elder of the Haqqani clan,” NATO said of Khan.

During the operation Tuesday, Khan surrendered without resistance and NATO forces also arrested his deputy and bodyguard, along with a number of other insurgents, the alliance said.

“The Haqqani network and its safe havens remain a top priority for Afghan and coalition forces,” NATO concluded.

The NATO statement said security forces have conducted more than 500 operations so far in 2011 in an effort to disrupt the Haqqani network leadership, resulting in the deaths of 20 operatives and the capture of nearly 300 insurgent leaders and 1,300 suspected Haqqani insurgents.

In a related development, Afghanistan’s intelligence service said Saturday it has given Pakistan hard evidence that Rabbani’s assassination was planned in the southern outskirts of Quetta where key Taliban leaders are based.

The Taliban have not claimed responsibility for killing Rabbani.

Lutifullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, provided the first details about where the assassination was allegedly planned at a news conference.

“The place where Professor Rabbani’s killing was planned is a town called Satellite near Quetta, Pakistan,” Mashal told reporters. “The key person involved in the assassination of Rabbani has been arrested and he has provided lots of strong evidence about where and how it was planned. We have given all that evidence to the Pakistan embassy.”

The Afghan intelligence documents handed over to Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul include the address, photographs and a layout of a house in Satellite, Mashal said. He said the Pakistanis also have been provided with the names of individuals who discussed Rabbani’s assassination at the house in Satellite.

Satellite Town is an upscale residential area very close to the city center and it is known to residents that Afghan Taliban live there.

Mashal would not disclose the identity of the person in custody, saying only that he was a second-tier figure within the Taliban hierarchy.

He said additional details would be released soon by a commission set up to investigate Rabbani’s death.

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