Pakistani security forces arrested a senior al-Qaeda figure in Karachi on Tuesday, signaling the first major move against Osama bin Laden’s network inside Pakistan since his death on May 2.
Security agencies in the port city of Karachi detained Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub, alias Abu Suhaib al-Makki, a Yemeni said to have worked directly under the al-Qaeda leadership along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The army described the arrest as a “major development in unraveling the al-Qaeda network operating in the region” — triggering speculation it may signal the start of a wider heave against Bin Laden’s top lieutenants.
However, Makki’s seniority in al-Qaeda was not immediately known. In the past, both the US and Pakistan have retrospectively attributed seniority to previously unknown al-Qaeda militants.
Since bin Laden’s death, the US has put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants believed to be sheltering in Pakistan, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
US Senator John Kerry, visiting Islamabad for US President Barack Obama’s administration, on Monday presented a list of demands to the Pakistani government, but refused to say what they were. US officials are frantically sorting through a treasure trove of intelligence captured from bin Laden’s house including hundreds of computer disks.
It was not immediately clear whether Makki’s arrest came from Pakistani or US intelligence.
The arrest offered a glimmer of hope in another gloomy day for Pakistan-US relations.
Earlier that day, there was an exchange of fire between NATO and Pakistani forces along the Afghan border that injured two Pakistani soldiers.
Two NATO helicopters opened fire on a Pakistani military post in Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, after coming under fire. Pakistan’s army condemned the incident as a “violation of Pakistan air space.” NATO said the helicopters scrambled after one of its bases came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border.