- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

KARACHI, Pakistan Three small chemical labs found in terrorist hide-outs in Karachi in recent weeks indicate that al Qaeda's bid to build chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons did not end with the destruction of its bases in Afghanistan.
The labs, in which undisclosed quantities of cyanide and other toxic chemicals were stored, were found in safe houses used by local cells of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi group, whose operatives trained in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks. The local terrorists have been working with al Qaeda in Pakistan since the fall of the Taliban.
Officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said the discovery of the makeshift labs in July came as a surprise to Pakistani authorities, who had believed that al Qaeda had moved some of its weapons-making operations from Afghanistan to other points in the Middle East, but not to Pakistan.
Pakistani intelligence officials now say Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, whose operatives are not sophisticated enough to build even a car bomb themselves, probably received help from al Qaeda members in the labs.
Earlier arrests made during a raid on a smugglers' village near Karachi led the authorities to believe that al Qaeda had moved much of its lab equipment to other countries in the region with the help of gold smugglers who had been operating for decades between Pakistan and several Middle Eastern countries.
The al Qaeda shipments, which reportedly also included several sacks of gold, were made just before the U.S.-led coalition forces began bombing Afghanistan last year. The terrorists had foreseen the bombing operations and made full use of the smugglers' services.
By the time the Pakistani authorities swooped down on the smugglers' village, called Ibrahim Hyder, the entire operation was over. Much of the gold reportedly went to Sudan.
Meanwhile, attempts to locate other weapons labs could be a challenge for the Pakistani intelligence community.
Al Qaeda and its local allies, including Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and the Jaish-i-Mohammed group, have now reorganized into small cells of three to five persons, each charged with a specific operation.
Lt. Gen. Javad Ashraf Qazi, a former Pakistan military intelligence chief, says trying to find a group of three to five persons in a city of more than 10 million "is next to impossible."
Nevertheless, investigations over the past few months indicate that al Qaeda fighters have taken shelter mainly in eight or nine suburbs of Karachi where the group's Pakistani and Afghan sympathizers are concentrated.
Most of the arrests in Karachi so far came with assistance of FBI agents using equipment that enables them to monitor cell-phone traffic and to pinpoint where specific calls originate.
Thousands of al Qaeda members hiding in Pakistan use cell phones to keep in touch and seem to communicate mainly in Arabic, but recognizing who is who is often tricky.
However, Ramzi Binalshibh, a key al Qaeda leader arrested last month, apparently slipped when he allowed himself to be interviewed on tape by a reporter working for Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based television network. The voice pattern obtained from the broadcast gave investigators something to work with in Karachi.
A neighbor of Binalshibh in Karachi said Pakistani intelligence agents began watching the terrorist's safe house after the interview was broadcast, but commandos "did not move in until September 11, to coincide with President Pervez Musharraf's trip to New York."
None of the numerous cell-phone calls intercepted in Karachi gave police any hint of the presence of al Qaeda chemical labs there.


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