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Top al-Qaida Operative Caught in Pakistan

A top al-Qaida operative, one of the world's most wanted men with a multi-million-dollar price on his head, is resisting questioning by Pakistani interrogators seeking clues to the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, officials said on Friday.

Investigators are scouring a computer and several disks seized when they captured Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and 13 others after a 14-hour gunbattle with security forces at the weekend in the city of Gujarat, 175 kilometers southeast of Islamabad, intelligence sources said on Friday.

The suspects were being interrogated in the eastern city of Lahore.

But Ghailani, born in Zanzibar in Tanzania and wanted by the United States for his role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people, had given little away, one intelligence source said.

"He is still tight-lipped," the official said.

Ghailani was captured along with his Uzbek wife and two South Africans after his driver led police to his hide-out, the intelligence source said. Among those found in the house were three women and five children.

Ghailani had brought two other foreign comrades to his safe house after the group became nervous that security forces were closing in on the hotel in Gujarat where they had been staying, the intelligence source said.

Security forces were now searching for the Pakistani who rented the house for Ghailani.

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 US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania, killing 224 people.

Ghailani, who reportedly could not drive a car at the time of the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, is probably the most senior al-Qaida operative caught in Pakistan since the arrest in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

"It is a big achievement for our security forces," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.

Ghailani and his companions had spent time in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban and were preparing to flee Pakistan along with their families, using fake travel papers, a ministry official said.

Pakistan had not yet received a request from the United States for Ghailani's extradition, Hayat said.

"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 US," he said.

The United States was offering a reward of US$5 million for the capture of the cherubic-faced, diminutive Tanzanian.

Earlier reports on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List had specified a reward of US$25 million - the same bounty offered for bin Laden.

US officials suspect bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and other al-Qaida 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.

Washington blamed al-Qaida for the devastating East Africa bombings and fired missiles on Afghani military training camps run by bin Laden shortly afterwards. Bin Laden escaped unhurt.

Four al-Qaida supporters were sentenced to life in prison in October 2001 by a Manhattan federal judge for the bombings.

(China Daily July 31, 2004)

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