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Al-Qaeda suspects quizzed after Musharraf death plot arrests
Updated: 2005-05-07 14:14

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan interrogated a number of Al-Qaeda suspects including the network's alleged third in command after security officials said they had smashed a new plot to kill President Pervez Musharraf.

Intelligence agents seized seven conspirators in central Punjab province in late April, around a week before the capture on Monday of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, allegedly a key aide of Osama bin Laden, officials said Saturday.

The Libyan, accused by military leader Musharraf of masterminding two earlier attempts to blow him up in December 2003 because of his support for the US-led war on terror, had links with the assassination plotters, they added.

"This is a spectacular achievement by Pakistan's security agency," said one top security official. "First we smashed the gang plotting a new attack on Musharraf and then a week later we netted two Arabs including al-Libbi."

Officials said the suspects involved in the latest bid were headed by a Pakistani Al-Qaeda militant freed from prison in Afghanistan named Mohammad Arshad, who is an associate of al-Libbi.

Also among them was junior air official Mushtaq Ahmed, who escaped from jail last November after being sentenced to death for a key role in one of the earlier attempts on Musharraf's life. He was recaptured last week.

"The group was planning a new attack on President Musharraf in Rawalpindi or Islamabad. They had assembled the explosive devices and they were to use them adopting a new method," the intelligence official said, without giving details.

The plot was revealed when security agencies arrested Ahmed, the official said.

"Mushtaq Ahmed was an important part of the group and we understand that the group's leader was in contact with al-Libbi," the official added.

A security official said it was possible al-Libbi's arrest in Mardan town in North West Frontier Province was based on intelligence gleaned from those arrested in Punjab.

The identity of the other Arab had not been established but he appeared to be a mid-level operator, he added. Ten Afghans were also picked up.

Thousands of pro-Taliban tribesmen rallied against Pakistan's hunt for Al-Qaeda-linked militants on Friday and torched effigies of US President George W. Bush, witnesses said.

Musharraf earned the hatred of Islamic extremists by allying himself with Washington after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

In December 2003 militants blew up a road bridge moments after he passed and then two weeks later on Christmas Day suicide car bombers ploughed into his motorcade in the same area, killing 15 people.

Ahmed was convicted of a role in the first attack in November and escaped from military custody soon afterwards. Security forces arrested him on a tip-off last week on a bus south of Islamabad.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Friday the interrogation of al-Libbi was "proceeding well", while another security official said he was being questioned to get more leads on his accomplices.

Al-Libbi took over Al-Qaeda operations in Pakistan after the arrest in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the key planner of the September 11 attacks and the network's former number three, officials said.

Bush has hailed the arrest of al-Libbi, who had a five-million-dollar US bounty on his head and is the latest in a string of key captures by Pakistan.

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