Pakistan plays down impact of al-Qaeda arrest

3 August 2004, Farhan Bokhari, Financial Times

Full Text:

ISLAMABAD - Information gleaned from a prominent al-Qaeda leader arrested in Pakistan last week did not provide sufficient evidence of an imminent terrorism threat in the US, senior Pakistani officials familiar with the case said yesterday.

Last week's arrest created speculation that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted in connection with the 1998 attacks at two US embassies in east Africa, might have provided fresh information on al-Qaeda's operational plans.

According to one report, a Pakistani minister claimed that e-mails retrieved from Mr Ghailani's computer revealed new plans for attacks in the US and UK.

"There is a lot of unnecessary speculation making the rounds," a senior Pakistani official said. "The fact is that Ghailani may have been on the run for so long that there can be no basis for assuming that he was central to the planning in Europe and the US."

Pakistani authorities yesterday also denied media reports that a valuable al-Qaeda suspect had been in government detention since mid-July. The suspect was reported to have been the source of information leading to the heightened security alerts in Washington and New York City.

The interior minister denied a computer expert who managed an e-mail communication system for key al-Qaeda figures was arrested last month. "We have not arrested anyone like this, I can tell you categorically," Faisal Saleh Hayat told the FT.

Yesterday's New York Times reported the July 13 arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, 25, who allegedly helped operate a secret communications system using coded messages to transfer information for al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda's largely amorphous structure, dependent on autonomous cells in different parts of the world, "made it highly unlikely that its command and control structures for future attacks in the US" would operate from a distant country such as Pakistan, the official said.

"The circumstances suggest that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani had been ineffective for a long time, on the defensive, being chased and on the run," said Lieutenant General (Rtd) Talat Masood, a Pakistani commentator.

Circumstantial evidence available so far suggested Mr Ghailani had been on the run in the Pakistan-Afghan region, unable to play a role as aplanner of terrorist attacks in the western world, Lt Gen Masood said.

Other officials said the information extracted from Mr Ghailani was more likely to concern the whereabouts of other al-Qaeda leaders and operatives. Interrogations of previously arrested suspects are believed to have yielded similar information.

Source: Bob Harris @ This Modern World

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