- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Hard-line Islamic clerics say American agents swooped in on three Islamic schools in the capital last month, breaking down doors, and blindfolding a cook and asking him questions about terror links they suspect him of having, then disappeared as quickly as they came.
U.S. Embassy and Pakistani law enforcement officials insist the raid never happened. Still, the assertions sparked a new wave of anger at the presence of FBI agents in Pakistan and a vow by radical religious leaders to kick American soldiers and agents out of the country.
"Whatever it was, we had nothing to do with it," a U.S. official said of the incident that is said to have occurred Jan. 16, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a senior Interior Ministry official who is coordinating intelligence and security in the campaign against terrorist groups, agreed.
"These raids simply never took place," Brig. Cheema said. "These people wanted to malign the government, so they made these things up, but it is absolutely false. When we raid someplace, we own up to it."
The Islamic clerics who run the three schools in Islamabad insist they were targeted by English-speaking agents whom they took to be from the FBI, and it hasn't been hard to convince most Pakistanis. News of FBI involvement in high-profile arrests has become commonplace, adding to a perception that the country is swarming with American intelligence agents.
"Every white person in Pakistan is taken as an FBI agent," Brig. Cheema said. "It is just a perception, but there are vested interests and quarters here that want to catch on to the public sentiment to give the impression the FBI is on a rampage."
The U.S. Embassy refuses to comment officially on individual arrests. But it said the number of FBI agents in Pakistan has fluctuated from two to 12 since the September 11 attacks.
Whatever the number, Pakistani police and intelligence officials confirm that FBI agents have been involved in nearly every important terror arrest in this country since the war on terrorism began. The government says it has handed over more than 420 al Qaeda and Taliban suspects to American custody.
But opposition to President Pervez Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led campaign has become a rallying cry for resurgent Islamic hard-line groups, who seek the expulsion of all U.S. personnel.
"It is the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan that is at stake here," said Ameer ul-Azeem, a spokesman for the coalition, Muthida Majlis-e-Amal. "Would the United States allow Pakistani security agency men to search homes in America?"
Brig. Cheema said American agents never detain suspects themselves, but acknowledged that they are often present during raids and provide "technical assistance."
The work of American intelligence agents has led to some of the greatest successes so far in the hunt for al Qaeda fugitives.
FBI agents were present in March when Pakistani commandos raided the hide-out of al Qaeda's No. 3 man, Abu Zubaydah. Another joint FBI-Pakistani operation led to the September arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh, suspected of planning the suicide hijackings in the United States.
Two other al Qaeda suspects, whose identities have not been disclosed, were arrested in the southern port city of Karachi in January, again with FBI assistance.

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