Top Qaeda leader caught
* Al Libbi behind Musharraf assassination bids
* No decision yet to hand him to US
By Shahzad Raza and Iqbal Khattak
ISLAMABAD/peshawar: The government said on Wednesday that security forces had arrested Abu Farraj Al Libbi, the third most senior in the Al Qaeda hierarchy and mastermind behind two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told reporters that Al Libbi, a Libyan, was arrested a few days ago. However, he did not say where Al Libbi was arrested from.
He said the Al Qaeda operative had planned two assassination attempts on the president in December 2003. Sherpao refused to comment on the number of other Al Qaeda operatives reportedly arrested along with Al Libbi.
Pakistan had put a Rs 20 million reward on Al Libbi’s arrest in August 2004. The US government had already offered $5 million for his arrest. Sherpao also said it was too early to say whether he would be given to US authorities. He said the Al Qaeda operative was being interrogated and a decision to hand him over to US authorities would be made later.
The interior minister said Al Libbi had close relations with Amjad Hussain Farooqi, who was killed by security forces in September 2004. Sherpao said his arrest meant the success of Pakistan’s efforts in the war against terrorism. A short profile given to reporters by Sherpao stated that Al Libbi had also helped Khalid Sheikh organise the 9/11 attack on the US.
“This is a very important day for us,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told AP, adding that security agents had already gleaned a lot of information from the arrest and were confident they were on Bin Laden’s trail. “This arrest gives us a lot of tips, and I can only say that our security agencies are on the right track” in the hunt for Al Qaeda’s number one, he said. “This man knew many people and many hideouts,” he added.
A man calling himself Abdullah and claiming to be a foreign militant in South Waziristan Agency told Daily Times on Wednesday that Al Libbi was a close associate of Osama Bin Laden and acted as Al Qaeda’s operational chief in Pakistan after March 1, 2003, when Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was arrested and given to the US.
“He was arrested from Mardan (about 30 miles north of Peshawar) along with another unidentified man. Al Libbi exchanged fire with security forces after which he was arrested,” the militant claimed.
Al Libbi was charged with masterminding two assassination attempts against President Musharraf in December 2003. The president escaped unscathed, but 17 others were killed in one of the attacks.
Al Libbi was not on the Federal Bureau of Intelligence’s ‘Most Wanted List’. In Washington, an FBI spokesman said the bureau had yet to confirm the arrest, AP reported.
A photograph of Al Libbi released by the Pakistani government on Wednesday and taken after his arrest showed a dishevelled, bearded man with sunken eyes and what appeared to be a skin condition.