U.S. team takes part in raid in Pakistan

30 suspects arrested

25 men are believed to have al-Qaida links, 5 are Taliban fighters

March 30, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A team of American law enforcement and intelligence officials took part in a raid in Pakistan early Thursday that captured five Taliban fighters and 25 Arabs suspected of having links to al-Qaida, senior Pakistani law enforcement officials said yesterday.

The raid, in the town of Faisalabad, 220 miles south of here, was carried out with the permission of the Pakistani government and together with a special Pakistani police team, the officials said.

But it was believed to be the first time that American law enforcement and intelligence officials had carried out a raid of such magnitude in another country since the Bush administration began its campaign against terror. Pakistani officials acknowledged that the American role could enflame sensitivities over Pakistani sovereignty.

Indeed, in a long interview yesterday, Interior Minister Moinhuddin Haider appeared to lay to rest another issue striking the same nerve, saying that the main suspect in the killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl would not be handed over to the United States to stand trial any time soon, if ever.

One senior Pakistani official said the Americans involved in the raid Thursday included four FBI agents equipped with sensitive monitoring equipment that allowed them to pinpoint houses where conversations were taking place in Arabic.

Another official said the American team also included one CIA agent, whom he named, and one official from the American Embassy. He also said that about 20 American soldiers took part, though Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of the U.S. Central Command, said in Washington that none of his forces were involved.

"It was a joint operation," a senior Pakistani government official said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here declined to comment on the raid, beyond saying that the United States and Pakistan have been cooperating closely on several investigations.

Pakistani officials said the raid took place 12 hours after the Americans approached the Pakistani government with intelligence about the suspects and then sought and received Pakistani permission to carry out the operation. Until now, American assistance in pursuing terror suspects in Pakistan has been limited to training and intelligence sharing.

Those rounded up in the raid, the officials said, will be flown to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and then eventually to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The detained included men from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt, officials said. Most of them had fled Afghanistan in recent weeks, officials said.

The Pakistani officials would say little more about the circumstances of the raid, those seized and whether they might have been involved in previous terror attacks or planning new ones.

The raid would seem to confirm what American officials have been saying for weeks, that al-Qaida and Taliban have slipped across the border into Pakistan, where they are regrouping and preparing terrorist activities.

Still, Haider, who is one of the closest advisers to Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, insisted that the raid "should make it very clear that no terrorist can enter our territory and not be found."

Haider also said that Pakistani troops were doing their best to seal the border.

American officials have raised the possibility that American soldiers might cross the border into Pakistan in pursuit of the fleeing enemy, a possibility that has set up a political maelstrom here. Haider said that the American forces would not be granted permission to carry out such an operation.

Haider, whose older brother was assassinated by extremists last December, touched on another delicate subject, the possibility that Pakistan would hand over to the United States Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, the main suspect in the killing of Pearl.

Going beyond what officials have said before, Haider said that if convicted, Saeed would have to complete his sentence here before being turned over to American authorities.

Previously, Pakistani officials had held out the possibility that Saeed would be turned over after his trial here ended. Haider's statement appeared to be a defeat for the Bush administration, which has made no secret of its desire to have Saeed brought to trial in the United States.

Several senior Bush administration officials made requests directly to Musharraf that Saeed be handed over.

Haider said that he had had numerous conversations with American officials about the case and that they were satisfied that Saeed would not be handed over. "They feel that the Pakistan judicial system will do justice in this case," Haider said.

If convicted, Saeed could be sentenced to death and hanged, which the Bush administration has said would be a satisfactory resolution, a senior Pakistani official said. He added that the Bush administration had indicated it would push for Saeed to be brought to the United States if he were acquitted, or given a sentence of only 20 to 30 years.

Saeed was brought into court in Karachi, Pakistan, yesterday for the final reading of charges against him. The trial is scheduled to begin April 5, the prosecutor, Rafi Qureshi, said, and under the anti-terrorism law, it should be finished in one week.

The trial may be held in the prison, for security reasons, and it may be closed to the public, Qureshi said.

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