20 al-Qaida suspects arrested in Pakistan

Top official says captures demonstrate country's efforts against terrorism

August 05, 2004|By Kim Barker and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah | Kim Barker and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - More than 20 al-Qaida members have been arrested in Pakistan in the past three weeks, partly because of efforts to flush out foreign fighters in tribal areas, officials said yesterday.

Almost half of those arrested are from other countries, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat said last night, and the recent arrests should silence critics who say Pakistan has been harboring terrorists and has not done enough to fight al-Qaida.

"Pakistan has shown how strong its will is and how effective its results have been," Hayyat said. "Pakistan has gone many an extra mile."

In recent weeks, the battle against al-Qaida has appeared to be heating up in South Asia. Not only has Pakistan stepped up its fight, but just over the border, Afghan soldiers backed by the U.S. coalition killed as many as 50 insurgents in a battle early Monday, according to the coalition.

Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghanistan Interior Ministry, said yesterday that officials had overheard radio traffic in Arabic and Chechen.

Attacks against government officials in Pakistan have increased as well. Last week, a suicide bomber tried to kill the country's prime minister-designate; he survived, but nine others were killed. On Monday, rebels tried to kill the chief minister of Balochistan province, which borders Afghanistan.

Pakistan officials said more arrests are likely as they continue to investigate. Since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Pakistan officials have captured almost 600 al-Qaida members, Hayyat said.

At least two men arrested recently appeared to be on the run. One was boarding a plane in Lahore. One was standing at a bus station.

Another arrested man, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, is a Tanzanian on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Ghailani, who also goes by Ahmed the Tanzanian and Foopie, was captured July 25 after a 12-hour gunbattle in the town of Gujrat, along with two other al-Qaida members, officials said.

Those two were allegedly plotting attacks on their home country of South Africa, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

In the past 48 hours, two other al-Qaida members from Africa have been arrested, but the government would not identify them, Hayyat said. Another man, with a reward of several million dollars offered for his capture, was arrested in the past three weeks, said Hayyat, who declined to identify him.

He might be Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaida computer expert who allegedly e-mailed coded messages to operatives. U.S. officials announced he was arrested July 13 in Karachi; Pakistan officials would not publicly confirm this.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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