Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Pakistan arrests al-Qaeda suspect following shootout


A top al Qaeda operative, one of the world's most wanted men with a US$25 million price on his head, was in custody in Pakistan yesterday for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was arrested along with 13 others after a 14-hour gunbattle with security forces over the weekend in the city of Gujarat, about 175km southeast of Islamabad, Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.

"It is a big achievement for our security forces," he said.

The US had offered a reward of US$25 million for the capture of the Tanzanian national, the same bounty offered for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 19 others on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List.

Ghailani is probably the most senior al-Qaeda operative caught in Pakistan since the arrest in March last year of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

"He is wanted for the death of Americans," said an official in Washington on condition of anonymity.

Ghailani, who is in his early 30s and goes by the nicknames "Foopie" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian," was indicted in New York in 1998 for the synchronized blasts that blew up the US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania, killing 224 people.

Washington blamed al-Qaeda for the devastating bombings and carried out a missile attack on Afghan military training camps run by bin Laden shortly afterwards. Bin Laden escaped unhurt.

Four al-Qaeda supporters were sentenced to life in prison in October 2001 by a Manhattan federal judge for the bombings. The FBI and the Manhattan US Attorney's office had no immediate comment on Ghailani's arrest.

Hayat said Pakistani security forces had been acting on a tip-off when they raided a suspected militant hideout in Gujarat. One policeman was slightly wounded in the gunbattle, he added.

Hayat said Ghailani, his Uzbek wife and up to eight other foreigners, including two South Africans, were among those arrested.

Those held included four men, three women and five children, Pakistan's Nation newspaper said yesterday.

"They were strangers, and they acted as such, keeping mostly to themselves," the newspaper said, quoting neighbors.

Pakistan had not yet received a request from the US for Ghailani's extradition, Hayat said.

"He has been in Pakistan for some time. We have to establish the exact nature of his activities and scope of his network in Pakistan. Only after we have exhausted our inquiries shall we be able to hand him over ... to the US," he said.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised Pakistan's pursuit of al-Qaeda-linked fighters during a visit to Islamabad this month.

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