This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/589
Firefight preceded capture as terrorist tried to flee on motorcycle
May 5, 2005
This picture released by Pakistan's Interior Ministry shows senior al-Qaida suspect Abu Faraj al-Libbi Wednesday in Islamabad, Pakistan.
MIM: For terrorist 'scorecard' list of captured and wanted terrorists and their positions the worldwide Jihad network see:
Excerpts from "They've Got Him Now What?" by Michael Isikoff and Marc Hosenball details Al Libbi's capture:
May 16 issue - Abu Faraj al-Libbi had no idea he was about to go down. Last Monday, the Qaeda operative, believed to be one of Osama bin Laden's closest henchmen, was hiding out in Mardan, a small frontier town in northwest Pakistan. As he rode along the streets on the back of a motorbike driven by another man, he came upon a group of women dressed head to toe in black burqas. Nothing unusual about that. Except that some of the women were actually men, Pakistani security agents concealing automatic weapons in the billowing folds. They had gone to Mardan after receiving tips from informants that "foreigners" were in the area. When al-Libbi reached his destination, the agents threw off their cover and rushed him. Shots were fired. Panicked, al-Libbi tried to run away. "I'm a jihadi! Protect me, help me!" he pleaded to pedestrians as he fled. No one came to his aid. He ducked into a house and locked himself inside a room. The agents lobbed tear gas through a window. Al-Libbi emerged, choking on fumes. It wasn't until later that his pursuers realized they had brought down the most wanted man in Pakistan.
(AP Photo/Pakistan Interior Ministry, HO)
Al-Libbi betrayed by skin disorder
By Rana Jawad in Islamabad
IT did not take long for Pakistani authorities to confirm the identity of the motorcycle riding-militant they had caught after a fierce gunfight in a remote north-western town. His skin gave him away.
Alleged al-Qaeda No.3 Abu Faraj al-Libbi looked more like a businessman with his trimmed beard and smart collar and tie when his picture first featured on a Pakistani most wanted poster last year.
But a very different face appeared on Wednesday in the first photograph after his capture. Not just the straggly beard and haunted look, but the facial blotching caused by the skin disorder leucoderma, or vitiligo, the condition suffered by pop star Michael Jackson.
"It was easy for us to immediately recognise him because he is suffering from this peculiar skin disease and it was not difficult to know that 'yes, we've got al-Libbi", a government minister said on condition of anonymity.
Until a year ago the 40-year-old Libyan was a relative unknown.
When he first came to prominence in Pakistan during interrogations after two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf in December 2003, intelligence agencies only knew him as Dr Taufeeq.
But investigators then rounded up a key Pakistani militant, Salahuddin Bhatti, and his grilling disclosed both al-Libbi's origins and his position in the al-Qaeda hierarchy as the operational chief in Pakistan.
They soon realised that he had filled the vacuum left by the capture in March 2003 of key 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Further confirmation emerged when security forces captured the terror network's computer expert Naeem Noor Khan and Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, wanted by the US for bombing two American embassies in East Africa in 1998.
"Both Naeem and Khalfan used to get instructions from him also," a security official who was involved in the initial interrogation of the duo said.
Their arrests in July last year revealed al-Qaeda had planned terror attacks in the US and Britain that led to a worldwide terror alert.
"The information that we had gathered about him was that he had been getting instructions from Osama bin Laden," another security official said.
According to Pakistan and US defence officials, he became a senior member of what is left of the al-Qaeda leadership from before the US-led military campaign that removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.
Al-Libbi is thought to have become bin Laden's personal assistant during the 1990s, when he was involved in providing training to militants at the Al-Farooq camp near the Afghan capital Kabul before the war, security officials said.
The connections he developed there also gave him access to the funds and the manpower to mastermind a string of terrorist attacks – and the ability to blend into the background of Pakistan's chaotic cities and towns. He also had a Pakistani wife.
One of his key contacts became Pakistani al-Qaeda militant Amjad Farooqi, who was gunned down by security forces last September.
A recruiter of militants and suicide bombers from the ranks of Pakistan's sectarian Islamic groups and the jihad holy warriors trained in Afghan camps to fight there and in divided Kashmir, Farooqi got al-Libbi the men he needed for his terror plans.
Al-Libbi also used his contacts to evade arrest, moving from one place to the other, living in Lahore with Ghailani then the south-west province of Baluchistan and finally conservative Northwest Frontier Province.
It was there, in the town of Mardan, that security forces captured him as he rode on a motorcycle with another man on Monday.
Security officials now hope they can use al-Libbi's network of militants themselves – to track down the rest of the al-Qaeda leadership and possibly bin Laden himself.
"He is one of his closest confidants and he should be able to provide new leads about Osama," another security official said on condition of anonymity.
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.
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 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
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/589