Pakistan captures bin Laden's top general in major blow to al-Qaida
May 06, 2005
Bin Laden aide had ten-strong British network
By Daniel McGrory
AL-QAEDA'S third-in-command, being interrogated after his capture in Pakistan, was in close contact with ten militants working for him in Britain, according to investigators.
So far Abu Farj al-Libbi has refused to reveal the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his key accomplices.
His British cell is said to include a radical cleric and a terror suspect awaiting trial but the eight other men are still at large.
Their role was allegedly to carry cash around the world for the network using a number of aliases. Counter-terror officials are not certain of the identity of the eight suspects, who are said to be of Pakistani and North African origin. British officials hope that they will eventually be allowed to question al-Libbi.
Officials say that one of al-Libbi's couriers unwittingly led the CIA and Pakistani security officials to the Libyan-born mastermind in a town close to the Afghan border. He and four close aides were hiding at a shrine on a hilltop outside Mardan, near Peshawar.
Witnesses described yesterday how armed undercover agents in burkas ambushed al-Libbi on Monday as he rode pillion on a motorcycle through a graveyard. Al-Libbi, who was disguised as a woman, shot at his pursuers.
Bystanders dived for cover as a dozen people — all in black burkas — returned fire. The 42-year-old militant with a $5 million (£2.6 million) price on his head fled to a nearby guesthouse shouting to staff that he was "a jihadi" and pleaded for help.
Amanullah Khan, the deputy superintendent of police in Mardan, said that his officers fired teargas into a room in which al-Libbi barricaded himself but it took 45 minutes before he surrendered.
He emerged after apparently making a number of calls on his mobile phone. "He came out unarmed with his hands in the air and his head slightly bowed," Mr Khan said. He was hooded and bundled on to a special forces helicopter then flown to an army barracks in Rawalpindi for questioning.
An official said yesterday that al-Libbi had been asked two questions over and over again — "Where is bin Laden?" and "What were your plans?" — but had given no reply.
He is expected to be moved to what have been called "ghost prisons", run by the United States, where al-Qaeda suspects are interrogated.
Once he had been traced, there was disagreement between the CIA and Pakistani officials on whether to shadow him so that he might lead them to bin Laden.
The authorities in Islamabad were not prepared to risk losing the man blamed for orchestrating two assassination attempts on President Musharraf in 2003 so they went ahead with their ambush. Al-Libbi was easy to pick out because of blotches on his face caused by a virulent skin condition.
Pakistani officials say that they have rounded up more than 20 suspects since his capture, including a former air force technician who escaped a military prison after being sentenced to death for his role in the plots to kill the President.
Al-Libbi is believed to have been in regular contact with bin Laden but used couriers to carry coded handwritten messages.
He was promoted to No 3 in al-Qaeda after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his mentor and architect of the September 11 attacks, was arrested in Pakistan in September 2003.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistani commandos captured a senior al-Qaida leader, described by U.S. officials as the group's No. 3 operative, after a shootout at one of his hardscrabble hideouts. Jubilant Pakistani officials said Wednesday his arrest would help in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
U.S. President George W. Bush hailed the capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi, a native of Libya and al-Qaida's alleged operations planner, as a "critical victory," and others said it was the greatest blow to al-Qaida in more than two years - though al-Libbi is not on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists.
Al-Libbi is a confidant of bin Laden and was behind only Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri and the al-Qaida chief himself in the terror organization's hierarchy, a U.S. counterterrorism official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said al-Libbi is believed responsible for planning attacks around the world, including in the United States.
He was also Pakistan's most wanted man, the main suspect behind two 2003 assassination attempts against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf - and is likely to face the death penalty in Pakistan if convicted.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the arrest Monday has already produced a treasure trove of intelligence, and predicted more breakthroughs to come.
"This is a very important day for us," Ahmed said. "This arrest gives us a lot of tips, and I can only say that our security agencies are on the right track" in the hunt for bin Laden. "This man knew many people and many hideouts."
A Pakistani intelligence official said 11 more terror suspects - three Uzbeks, an Afghan and seven Pakistanis - were arrested before dawn Wednesday in the Bajor tribal region. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say what prompted authorities to launch the raid, or whether it was linked to al-Libbi's capture.
Al-Libbi - who's believed to use at least five aliases - was arrested along with another foreigner after a firefight on the outskirts of Mardan, a rough and tumble town 50 kilometres north of Peshawar, capital of the deeply conservative North West Frontier Province, officials said. The second foreigner has not been identified.
The arrest breaks a monthslong drought in the dragnet for bin Laden and his top lieutenants. Bin Laden has evaded a manhunt since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, appearing periodically on videotapes to warn of more violence. He is believed hiding along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Bush said the capture of al-Libbi "represents a critical victory in the war on terror," and he praised the Pakistani government and Musharraf for the arrest.
"Al-Libbi was a top general for bin Laden," Bush said. "He was a major facilitator and a chief planner for the al-Qaida network. His arrest removes a dangerous enemy who is a direct threat to America and for those who love freedom."
U.S. officials said the arrest was the most significant since the March 1, 2003 capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, also in Pakistan. They said it was the result of months of close co-operation between Pakistan and the CIA's most famous division, its clandestine service.
The American officials said the Pakistanis captured al-Libbi through human intelligence - traditional spying - but would not say whether the source or sources of the information that led to his capture were working with U.S. or Pakistani intelligence.
One Pakistan intelligence official said authorities were led to the hideout by a tip that foreigners had been spotted in the area. Another acknowledged that information from the Americans helped Pakistan plan a well-co-ordinated operation, but said Pakistan also obtained intelligence from militants it arrested months ago.
Al-Libbi had differences with Uzbeks and other militants who had been reluctant to accept him as a leader, hinting at a possible rift within al-Qaida's ranks, according to one of the Pakistani officials.
The last major breakthrough in Pakistan against al-Qaida was the September killing of Amjad Hussain Farooqi, a Pakistani associate of al-Libbi. Before that, Pakistani forces arrested Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian on the FBI's most-wanted list, in July 2004. Ghailani is now in U.S. custody.
The U.S. counterterrorism official said the relationship between bin Laden and al-Libbi dates to al-Qaida's early days in Sudan, where bin Laden set up a complex of businesses and terror enterprises in 1991. He assumed more authority within the terror group after the arrest two years ago of Mohammed, the official said.
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the U.S. government offered a $10 million US bounty for information leading to al-Libbi's arrest.
But a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no specific reward for al-Libbi on the government's Rewards for Justice program, which provides millions in some cases for information leading to the killing or capture of terrorists.
Although al-Libbi is not on the FBI list, the list does include another Libyan, Anas al-Liby, who is wanted in the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. Pakistani officials and a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Islamabad said the men are not the same. Al-Libbi or al-Liby means The Libyan in Arabic.
Al-Libbi reportedly spent time in South Waziristan, a tribal region along the border with Afghanistan that is considered a likely hideout for bin Laden. But al-Libbi fled after a series of military operations in the area last year. Authorities had said privately in recent weeks that they believed they were zeroing in on his location.
Al-Libbi was among six suspects identified as Pakistan's most wanted terrorists in a poster campaign last year. A photograph of al-Libbi released by the government Wednesday and taken after his arrest shows a dishevelled, bearded man with sunken eyes and what appears to be a skin condition.
It is in striking contrast with the poster photo, in which al-Libbi looks healthy and is dressed in a western-style suit and tie.
At least two dermatologists who viewed al-Libbi's picture said the skin condition "looks a lot like" vitiligo, which causes skin discolouration from loss of pigment cells. Vitiligo, the same skin condition Michael Jackson has said he has, can occur at any age and is thought to involve a faulty immune system. Skin exposed to the sun is often affected.
|More Raids, Arrests in Pakistan After Al-Libbi's Arrest|
|By VOA News
05 May 2005
Pakistani security forces have rounded up about two dozen suspected al-Qaida members using information from the network's third-in-command who was arrested this week.
Officials say raids are being carried out in several cities following interrogation of Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
Officials told Reuters news agency that the suspect became al-Qaida operations chief two years ago, and that he could provide leads to the whereabouts of top leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi near the town of Mardan was announced late Wednesday, and officials say he has been taken to Rawalpindi for questioning. Pakistan accuses him of orchestrating two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf in December