Pakistan says captures 'most wanted' Qaeda man
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, said to be a top al Qaeda operative and one of the world's most wanted men, was in custody in Pakistan on Friday for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Ghailani and 13 others were seized after a 14-hour gunbattle with security forces at the weekend in the city of Gujarat, about 175 km (110 miles) southeast of the capital Islamabad, Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.
The United States had offered a reward of $25 million for the Tanzanian national's capture, the same as for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 19 others on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List.
Ghailani is probably the most senior al Qaeda operative caught in Pakistan since the arrest in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
In Washington, a U.S. official confirmed Ghailani's arrest. "He is wanted for the death of Americans," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Ghailani, who is in his early 30s and goes by the nicknames "Foopie" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian," was indicted in New York in 1998 for the synchronized blasts that blew up the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania, killing 224 people.
Washington blamed al Qaeda for the devastating bombings and carried out a missile attack on Afghan military training camps run by bin Laden shortly afterwards. Bin Laden escaped unhurt.
Four al Qaeda supporters were sentenced to life in prison in October 2001 by a Manhattan federal judge for the bombings. The FBI and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office had no immediate comment on Ghailini's arrest.
Hayat said Pakistani security forces had been acting on a tip-off when they raided a suspected militant hideout in Gujarat. One policeman was slightly injured in the gunbattle, he added.
Hayat said Ghailani, his Uzbek wife and up to eight other foreigners, including two South Africans, were among those arrested.
NO EXTRADITION REQUEST YET
The minister said Pakistan had not yet received a request from the United States for his extradition.
"He has been in Pakistan for some time. We have to establish the exact nature of his activities and scope of his network in Pakistan. Only after we have exhausted our inquiries shall we be able to hand him over ... to the U.S.," he said.
"It is a big achievement for our security forces," he added.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised Pakistan's pursuit of al Qaeda-linked fighters during a visit to Islamabad earlier this month.
U.S. officials suspect bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and other al Qaeda supporters are hiding somewhere in rugged tribal areas along the Afghan border and have put pressure on Pakistan to pursue foreign militants in the lawless region.
Up to 600 fighters, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks, are believed to be in the tribal belt, many of them sheltered by tribesmen who have also been involved in fierce clashes with Pakistani troops this year.
Pakistani forces launched two major operations this year in the region after President Pervez Musharraf vowed to clear the country of foreign militants accused of attacks in Pakistan, including two attempts on his life in December, and strikes on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan says it has arrested hundreds of al Qaeda fighters and handed them over to the United States since it joined the U.S.-led war on terror in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.