- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s president said yesterday he will hand over senior al Qaeda terror suspect Abu Farraj al-Libbi to the United States for prosecution, even though the man is believed behind two assassination attempts against him and could have received the death penalty here.

President Pervez Musharraf said al-Libbi was cooperating, but had not provided any useful information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and that Pakistan has no interest in keeping him.

“We deport al Qaeda suspects to the United States,” Gen. Musharraf told a CNN conference in Atlanta, speaking via video hookup from Islamabad.

Al-Libbi was arrested May 2 after a shootout in northwestern Pakistan.

It was not clear when al-Libbi would be turned over, or where he is being held. At one point during the speech, Gen. Musharraf intimated that he believed the suspected terrorist had already been handed over to U.S. custody, before backtracking later.

“I presume that he may have been deported already to the United States,” Gen. Musharraf said, then added that: “As of three days back, he was not [deported]. … My information is about three days old.”

“We are obviously going to deport him,” he said. “We don’t want him in Pakistan.”

He said al-Libbi, believed to be a close confidant of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, has not passed on any information about bin Laden’s whereabouts during interrogation.

“No, he did not provide useful information about Osama bin Laden,” Gen. Musharraf said, speaking from the Pakistani capital. “He says he is not in contact with Osama bin Laden.”

Asked if al-Libbi was helping authorities, Gen. Musharraf said: “To a large extent, he is. … We have extracted all the information and intelligence from him.”

Some officials have described al-Libbi as al Qaeda’s No. 3 leader, after bin Laden and Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahri. However, he does not appear on the FBI list of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, and his role in al Qaeda is murky.

It is not clear what charges, if any, he might face in the United States, or if he has been indicted by any U.S. court.

In Pakistan, al-Libbi was wanted for purportedly masterminding two attempts on Gen. Musharraf’s life in December 2003. The president was unhurt, but 17 persons died in the second attack.

The assassination attempts carry a maximum penalty in Pakistan of death by hanging. The personal nature of the attacks led many to believe Gen. Musharraf would seek to try al-Libbi here, but the general, a staunch ally of the United States, said that wouldn’t be necessary.

Gen. Musharraf used much of his speech to extol the efforts of his security forces in the hunt for al Qaeda suspects, and he made a number of claims that could not be verified, among them that Pakistan had deported 7,000 al Qaeda members, and that it had arrested people involved in the production of anthrax and the 2002 bombing in Bali, Indonesia.

No known arrests have been made in the late 2001 anthrax mailings in the United States that killed five persons and left 17 persons sickened, and it was not clear if Gen. Musharraf was referring to those attacks.

He gave no details.

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