A top al-Qaeda strategist with a US$5 million bounty on his head and followers from Afghanistan to Europe has been captured in Pakistan, a US law enforcement official confirmed.
Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, who once wrote a 1,600-page autobiographical book on ways to attack Islam's enemies, has been flown out of the country after being interrogated by Pakistani and US authorities, Pakistani officials said on Tuesday. They did not specify where he was taken.
Terrorism analysts said that Nasar's capture has dealt a blow to al-Qaeda and other militant movements he aided through his virulent anti-Western writings and weapons training. His movements have been traced to Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and two European capitals.
Nasar, a 47-year-old Syrian-Spanish national, was seized in the Pakistani city of Quetta in November last year, said the US official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Nasar was arrested in a sting operation, which sparked a gunfight in which one person was killed, the official said.
The raid apparently took place on Nov. 1. At the time, Pakistani officials said they had captured two possible al-Qaeda suspects and a third man with ties to a Pakistani extremist group. Intelligence officials had said they were investigating whether one of the suspects was Nasar.
Nasar, an Islamic ideologue wanted by US and Spanish authorities for terror-related activities, "may have been turned over to the US" after his capture, the US official told reporters late last week. He would not say where Nasar may have been sent, and US officials in Washington declined to comment on Tuesday.
Pakistani and US officials have long been tightlipped on the status of Nasar, described by the US Justice Department as a former trainer at Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan who helped teach extremists to use poisons and chemicals before the US-led invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The Syrian native's dual citizenship -- he was married to a Spanish woman -- and his Western appearance made him difficult to find. His looks could resemble an Irish pub patron -- red hair, light skin, stocky build. When he grew out his beard, Nasar -- whose aliases ranged from Abu Musab al-Suri to Blond Blond -- blended into Islamic society.
Previous reports indicated he joined radical groups including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which has opposed the Syrian government and developed ties with terror groups, in the 1980s.
By 1988, Nasar was with the mujahidin fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, where he met bin Laden and became a leader of the Syrians associated with early al-Qaeda, Spanish court documents say.
By late 1997, he was running a training camp financed by bin Laden and keeping close contact with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to Spanish intelligence documents.