Pakistan questions terror suspect over assassination plot

TERRORISM: Officials are questioning the high-level al-Qaeda suspect caught in Dubai regarding two attempts on the president's life


Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 5

Pakistan yesterday questioned a top al-Qaeda suspect captured in Dubai over his alleged role in attempts to kill President Pervez Musharraf, as investigators ruled out al-Qaeda's hand in bombings in Karachi at the weekend.

"He is under questioning by Pakistani investigators," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said.

"He is required in many terrorist cases for interrogation."

Qari Saifullah Akhtar, whose arrest last week was the latest in a string of high-level al-Qaeda arrests since mid-July, was handed over to Pakistan late Saturday or early Sunday.

On Sunday night twin bombs tore through a religious school in Karachi, the crowded port city where scores of terror suspects have hidden.

But investigators ruled out al-Qaeda involvement in the blasts, which killed eight people, including at least six students.

"Al-Qaeda will not target religious students," Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said.

"The main possibility on which we are working is sectarianism," he said, referring to rivalry between extremists in the majority Sunni and minority Shiite Muslim sects.

Akhtar is reported to have trained militants in Afghanistan before the Taliban regime's ouster in late 2001 and is wanted in connection with two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December, officials have said.

His capture is the latest blow to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, coming on the heels of Pakistan's penetration of an active al-Qaeda cell accused of plotting fresh attacks in Britain and the US.

The hunt is still on for other top operatives hiding out in the rugged borderlands and crowded cities of Pakistan, the world's second largest Muslim nation.

Security forces are targeting two top masterminds, identified by intelligence officials as Libyan national Abu Farj and an Egyptian known only as Hamza. Both are believed to be close associates of bin Laden.

"We are searching all the time. We are looking for these people who are on wanted lists, or who are involved in terrorist activities," Rashid said.

Akhtar headed Pakistan's top Taliban ally, the militant organization Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, and is reported to have trained militants in Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani intelligence official who asked not to be named said.

Rashid said Akhtar's arrest could "lead to the arrests of other members of his group."

The July arrests of alleged key al-Qaeda operatives Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of Tanzania and computer whiz Naeem Noor Khan led to the capture of al-Qaeda suspects in the UK and to a security alert in the US.