Pakistan foils plan for weeklong series of al-Qaeda attacks

AFP , ISLAMABAD

Mon, Aug 23, 2004 - Page 5

Pakistan has busted an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to kill civil and military officials and attack key sites including the US embassy and the military headquarters, officials said yesterday.

The government said intelligence agencies had arrested around a dozen local and foreign militants who plotted attacks that were to begin August 13.

"Their plan was to carry out physical assaults on important civil and military dignitaries using sophisticated weapons and hand grenades," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said early yesterday.

Hayat said their targets included the legislature, military headquarters, the prime minister's house, the presidency, the US embassy and the residence of President Pervez Musharraf.

He said the arrests were made between August 11 and 15 and the plot had been masterminded by Egyptian Al-Qaeda suspect Sheikh Esa, alias Qari Ismail. Security officials did not confirm whether the Egyptian was arrested.

The arrests marked the latest success in a crackdown launched by Pakistani security agencies in July. More than 60 suspects, among them some key Al-Qaeda operatives, have been arrested.

"It is a big achievement of Pakistani intelligence agencies, which carried out daring raids at serious personal risks to foil the sinister plan," said Brigadier Javed Cheema.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told reporters on Saturday that the conspiracy could have killed hundreds of people.

"These people were planning to carry out destructive and bloody terrorist attacks during a week-long time starting from August 13," he said.

Rashid said a huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered from the suspects included bombs, grenades, rockets, rocket launchers, detonators and around 50 explosive devices.

"We are looking for three or four more suspects in connection with the plot," he said.

The interior minister said the leader of Islamabad's Lal Mosque, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was the main coordinator in the planning. It was not clear whether Ghazi was among those arrested.

Ghazi was already wanted in connection with a religious edict he and some clerics had issued a few months ago against military operations in the tribal region near the Afghan border against Al-Qaeda linked fugitives.

"Ghazi was the main communicator between the Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative and other men involved in the plot," he said.

In mid-July, Pakistani intelligence arrested Al-Qaeda's Pakistani computer expert, Naeem Noor Khan, in Lahore. Two weeks later Tanzanian Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, indicted in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, was also captured.

Information gleaned from the key operatives led to disclosure of plots to launch attacks in Pakistan, the US and Britain.

Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, who is to be sworn in as prime minister next week, survived an Al-Qaeda-linked assassination attempt on July 30. Nine people were killed in the suicide attack.