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Homeland Security

SLUG: 2-324410 Pak al-Qaida Arrest (L)







HEADLINE: Pakistan Arrests al-Qaida Commander

INTRO: A top al-Qaida operative accused of two attempts to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been captured in Pakistan. As VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad, a government spokesman says information from the arrest may have pointed Pakistani forces in the direction of an even bigger figure, Osama Bin Laden.

TEXT: Pakistan's Information Minister Shiekh Rashid Ahmed confirmed the arrest of Abu Farraj al-Libbi.

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"He was arrested last night with four other people."

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The 40-year-old Libyan native is considered one of Osama Bin Laden's closest personal associates. He is accused of masterminding two unsuccessful attempts in 2003 to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistani intelligence officials say Mr. al-Libbi took over as one of al-Qaida's chief operatives in 2003, after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, then the third-ranked leader of the terrorist group, was arrested in Pakistan. He allegedly helped Mohammed plan the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.

Pakistani sources said Mr. al-Libbi was believed to be in frequent contact with al-Qaida sleeper cells in Britain and the United States as recently as last year.

Mr. Rashid says the arrest is a major breakthrough for Pakistan's war on terror. Asked if the arrest had provided the government with any information on the most wanted figure of all, Osama Bin Laden, Mr. Rashid hinted that it had.

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"I can say our security forces and our armed forces...are moving towards [the] right direction after a long time. It is a big catch, so this can give us a good clue for other people."

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Mr. Rashid would not comment on where the suspect was arrested, but he was thought to have been hiding in Pakistan's northern tribal areas, along the Afghan border.

Since 2001, Pakistan has become a close ally of Washington in its fight against terrorism. Pakistani authorities have arrested more than 500 terrorist suspects, including several of the top-ranked al-Qaida leaders. (SIGNED)


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