A SENIOR al-Qa’ida leader believed to have been responsible for planning attacks on Australia, the US and Europe has been arrested in Pakistan.
Younis al-Mauritani was picked up in the suburbs of the southwestern city of Quetta along with two other high-ranking operatives after US and Pakistani spy agencies joined forces, signalling a possible thaw in relations.
The arrests are another blow to the global terror network, four months after al-Qa’ida chief Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by covert US forces, leading to a souring of ties between allies Islamabad and Washington.
“In an intelligence-driven operation by Inter-Services Intelligence in coordination with Frontier Corps Baluchistan, a senior al-Qa’ida leader, Younis al-Mauritani, mainly responsible for planning and conduct of international operations, was nabbed,” a Pakistani army statement said.
It named the two other senior operatives as Abdul Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami.
The army hailed co-operation between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in the arrest of the trio, news of which comes just days before the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“This operation was planned and conducted with technical assistance of United States Intelligence Agencies, with whom Inter-Services Intelligence has a strong, historic intelligence relationship,” the military said.
It did not say when the arrests took place.
But two Pakistani security officials in Quetta, in Baluchistan province, told AFP the three men were arrested early last week in a late-night operation in Satellite town, an upmarket city suburb, along with two Pakistanis.
According to Pakistan’s army, Mauritani was instructed by bin Laden to focus on economic targets in Australia, the US and Europe.
A grainy black-and-white photograph released by the army shows the al-Qa’ida operative with short dark hair, a slim face and neatly trimmed moustache and beard.
“He was planning to target United States economic interests including gas/oil pipelines, power generating dams and strike ships/oil tankers through explosive-laden speed boats in international waters,” the army said.
A White House spokesman also praised the operation, calling it an example of partnership between the two countries “which has taken many terrorists off the battlefield over the past decade”.
“We applaud the actions of Pakistan’s intelligence and security services that led to the capture of a senior al-Qa’ida operative who was involved in planning attacks against the interests of the United States and many other countries,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington.
Mauritani does not feature on either the US FBI list of most wanted terrorists or the US Treasury Department’s own list of global terrorists.
But Western intelligence officials from two separate countries confirmed Mauritani was part of al-Qa’ida’s top team and linked to threats against Europe.
“If it’s confirmed, it’s a good catch,” said one Western intelligence source.
It comes one week after US officials claimed to have killed the al-Qa’ida second-in-command near the Afghan border in Pakistan.
But Pakistani security officials have expressed doubt over the report that Atiyah abd al-Rahman had been killed in the northwest tribal area of Waziristan – an area that Washington has called the global headquarters of al-Qa’ida.