Timing of Ghailani’s arrest considered ‘intriguing’
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The timing of the announcement by Pakistan of the arrest of the al Qaeda suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, coincide as it did with the big night of the Democratic party convention, is raising a few eyebrows here.
President Pervez Musharraf said Friday that the arrest was made on Sunday. Why the information was held back for five days he did not make clear.
Typical of the speculation underway is the comment posted on one Internet website. “If this is what was offered in July, just wait for November, the presidential election month.” However, the announcement of the arrest had no effect whatever on the concluding day of the Democratic convention in Boston where John Kerry accepted the nomination of his party.
An article in New Republic magazine this month said Washington had been increasing pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda fugitives before the November presidential election. The report was strongly denied by the Pakistan foreign office spokesman Masood Khan.
The New Republic reported that a White House aide told Pakistani intelligence chief Ehsan ul-Haq that the best days to announce the killing or capture of any target would be July 26, 27 or 28, coinciding with the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The magazine cited an unidentified subordinate of Gen. Ehsan as a source.
The Bush administration has rejected the report as false.
“There is no truth to that statement,” National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday. In the New Republic article, McCormack said the US policy on such fugitives was unchanged by the election. Ghailani is being held in Pakistan, while American and Pakistani authorities determine whether and how quickly to take him into US custody.
“It depends on what the Pakistanis want to do, and what the United States wants to do,” one senior Justice Department official said in reply to the question whether Attorney General John Ashcroft would push for extradition so Ghailani could stand trial in the embassy bombing case. Ghailani could face the death penalty if convicted. In May this year, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III appealed to the public for help in locating Ghailani and six others, saying they may be preparing a large-scale attack in the United States or against US interests overseas.
Ghailani, born on the island of Zanzibar, is believed to have been involved in working on the twin plots to bomb US embassies several years before the attacks occurred. “He was a major player in both the Tanzanian and Kenyan bombings. He loaded the bomb ingredients in the Tanzanian bomb onto the truck, according to Mary Jo White, who as U.S. attorney for New York in 1998 led efforts to indict Ghailani, Bin Laden and more than a dozen others. The indictment also said Ghailani was suspected of buying the truck used in the attack in Tanzania. Officials said Ghailani used a host of aliases, including Ahmad al Tanzani, or “Ahmed the Tanzanian,” as well as “Foopie” or “Fupi.” “We have no idea where that name came from,” one former counter-terrorism official who has spent years investigating Ghailani told the Los Angeles Times.
Ghailiani is the first “big fish” terrorist to be arrested in Pakistan. 9/11 mastermind was captured in Rawalpindi in March 2003, and al Qaeda leaders and were nabbed in 2002.