Intelligence agents yesterday questioned a senior Saudi al-Qaeda suspect who was arrested in a joint Pakistani-CIA raid for allegedly plotting the 2005 attacks that killed 52 people in London.
The operative, named by Pakistani security officials as Zabi ul Taifi, was detained with six other Afghan and Pakistani suspects when security forces stormed a militant den in the city of Peshawar.
US and NATO officials say Pakistan’s rugged northwest is awash with militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda who fled neighboring Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion.
“The operation was conducted jointly by Pakistani intelligence and officials from the Central Intelligence Agency,” a security official said.
Local officials also said American investigators had been present at the time of the operation while an unmanned surveillance plane flew overhead.
“The suspect has been shifted to Islamabad for interrogation,” one senior Pakistani security official said.
“It was a well-planned raid carried out against a militant den. The culprits were caught off guard and captured without resistance,” the official said.
According to another senior official, the suspect was given shelter by a local Taliban commander loyal to Baitullah Mehsud — named by the Pakistani government as the mastermind of the Benazir Bhutto assassination in 2007.
The raid was carried out at the house of a Pakistani man called Bakshi Khan on the edge of Peshawar, officials said.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband held talks in Pakistan at the weekend largely aimed at defusing tensions with India, after attacks in Mumbai that New Delhi also blamed on Islamist extremists.
The Foreign Office in London said it was investigating the reports of the al-Qaeda operative’s arrest.
Four suicide bombers, three of ethnic Pakistani origin, blew themselves up on the public transport system in London on July 7, 2005, killing themselves and 52 others while wounding more than 700 commuters.
At least two of the four bombers were known to have visited Pakistan in the months before the attacks.
Pakistan rejects Western accusations that it is not doing enough to tackle the extremist threat within its own borders, where a wave of attacks carried out by fundamentalists have killed more than 1,500 people in 17 months.
Dozens of suspected US missile strikes have hit militant targets in Pakistan, sparking anger and concern from Islamabad, a close ally in the US-led “war on terror.”
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was scheduled to hold talks with Pakistani leaders later yesterday focused on the battle against Islamist militants, a foreign ministry official said.
NATO leads the International Security Assistance Force, made up of more than 51,000 troops from nearly 40 countries, which is assisting Afghan government forces fight the escalating Taliban-led insurgency.
Extremist attacks have plagued the main transport corridor from Pakistan used to re-supply NATO and other foreign forces operating in Afghanistan.
On Monday, de Hoop Scheffer said NATO needs 10,000 more troops to help provide security for scheduled elections in Afghanistan this year.
Deep in the district of Mohmand in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas, Pakistani security officials said 24 militants were killed when forces shelled extremist hideouts from helicopter gunships on Wednesday.