DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan | Pakistani troops and a NATO helicopter that crossed into Pakistani territory exchanged fire Tuesday, wounding two soldiers, local officials said. Pakistan protested, further straining relations with the West following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Also Tuesday, the Pakistani army said a “senior al Qaeda operative” had been arrested in the port city of Karachi.
In a brief statement, it said Yemeni national Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub, alias Abu Sohaib Al Makki, had been working directly under al Qaeda leaders along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It did not say when he was arrested.
A U.S. official said the suspect was a mid-level al Qaeda operative and praised the Pakistani military. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
Pakistan’s army and intelligence agencies have faced intense international suspicions since bin Laden was killed May 2 in a U.S. raid on a large house in the army town of Abbottabad not far from the capital. Many American lawmakers have said bin Laden’s location was a strong sign that Pakistan was playing a “double game” - that is, accepting U.S. aid but also protecting terrorists. Pakistan denies that.
The army said the arrest was a “major development in unraveling the al Qaeda network operating in the region.”
The NATO firing incident took place in the Datta Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal region, a known sanctuary for Taliban and al Qaeda militants who launch attacks inside Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. It has been targeted repeatedly by covert U.S. drone strikes.
A Western military official in Afghanistan and a NATO spokesman said there was firing at the border, but they did not confirm that Pakistani border troops were the target or had been hit.
The Pakistani army, facing internal criticism for failing to detect or stop the unilateral American raid that killed bin Laden, said it lodged a strong protest and demanded a meeting with NATO officials to discuss the incident. NATO said it would investigate.
A similar event last year in which two Pakistani soldiers were killed prompted the army to immediately close a key border crossing to NATO supplies heading from Pakistan into landlocked Afghanistan, dramatically exposing the vulnerability of the war effort.
The Western military official said a NATO base in Afghanistan took intermittent direct and indirect fire from the Pakistani side of the border. Two helicopters flew into the area, and one fired across the border after twice taking fire from the Pakistani side, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
NATO declined to say which coalition country was involved, but most of the helicopters that fly in that part of Afghanistan are American.