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Pakistan Apprehends Senior Al Qaeda Leader

Posted: May 4, 2005

Pakistani forces have captured a reputed top Al Qaeda leader accused of planning attacks inside the United States. 


Abu Faraj al-Libbi, whom the White House has described as the organization's head of operations in Pakistan, is also accused of orchestrating two failed assassination attempts on Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf. 


Al-Libbi is considered to be Al Qaeda's third most senior leader, reportedly succeeding September 11th planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed following the latter's capture in Pakistan in 2003.  Counterterrorism officials say they consider al-Libbi's capture to be the most significant blow to the Islamic terrorist group in two years. 


Both U.S. and Pakistani intelligence were tracking al-Libbi for several years without success.  In early May, however, Pakistani forces apprehended him during a shootout in Mardan, a town in the country's tribal North-West Frontier Province, which is known to be a hotbed of Al Qaeda and Taliban activity. Just before the shootout, intelligence officers dressed in women's burkas had trailed al-Libbi to a safe-house, where he was subsequently taken into custody. 


President George W. Bush, echoing American and Pakistani officials, described the arrest as a "critical victory in the war on terror," but other intelligence authorities in Europe and elsewhere contend that al-Libbi is little more than a low-level operative, pointing out that he is not even included on the F.B.I.'s most-wanted list.  American officials responded by noting that al-Libbi has not been indicted by a federal grand jury, a prerequisite for inclusion on the F.B.I. list. 


American officials are hopeful that al-Libbi will provide information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Libbi is known to have fled Afghanistan with Bin Laden after the U.S. invasion in 2001.


Though it is suspected that Pakistani security forces acted on U.S. intelligence, Pakistan has indicated that it will not turn al-Libbi over to the U.S.; he is expected to be charged in Pakistan with the attempted assassination of General Pervez Musharraf.  Pakistan has previously handed over Al Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, both of whom reportedly provided interrogators with useful intelligence.   

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2005 Anti-Defamation League