Al-Qaeda mastermind held in Pakistan
- Al-Qaeda mastermind held in Pakistan
By Edward Alden in Washington and Jimmy Burns in London
Published: April 30 2003 21:00 | Last Updated: April 30 2003 21:00
Pakistani police have captured the al-Qaeda operative who masterminded the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.
Western intelligence officials on Wednesday described the arrest as a "huge catch" that would further cripple the terrorist network.
As the US State Department released its annual report on global terrorism - which reaffirmed Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Libya and Sudan as "state sponsors of terrorism" - US officials confirmed Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, also known as Tawfiq bin Attash or Tawfiq Attash Khallad, was in custody along with five other suspected members of al-Qaeda.
"This is a significant blow to al-Qaeda," a US official told the Financial Times.
"If this is who the Pakistanis say he is, it is a huge catch, another important step in dismantling the organisation," said another western intelligence source.
According to Pakistani anti-terrorist officials, the six men were arrested in raids in Karachi on Tuesday, during which 330lbs of explosives and a large quantity of arms and ammunitions were seized.
US intelligence believes Mr bin Attash, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, joined al-Qaeda in the mid-1990s and moved into the group's inner circle as one of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards.
He is believed to have been the chief planner of the attack on the USS Cole, which was rammed by an explosives-laden boat while refuelling in Aden, the capital of Yemen, killing 17 US sailors. He is also directly linked to the September 11 attacks.
The Central Intelligence Agency photographed Mr bin Attash at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000, which was attended by Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, two of the 19 hijackers.
A US official said the arrest, like that of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, al- Qaeda's operations chief, last month, would seriously disrupt the group's ability to plan further attacks.
He said Mr bin Attash was thought to be involved in current terrorist operations and was in regular contact with al-Qaeda operatives around the world. "Certainly this is going to further hamper al-Qaeda's ability to communicate," he said.
Though Mr bin Laden remains at large, the arrests are the latest in a series that has severely depleted the ranks of al-Qaeda leaders and thwarted its efforts to mount new attacks against the US or its allies.
In its annual report on global terrorism released on Wednesday, the State Department said the number of terrorist incidents in 2002 fell to the lowest level since 1969.
Cofer Black, State Department co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, said the decline was largely due to increased security measures in virtually every country and the arrest and imprisonment of more than 3,000 suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.
"It is harder for terrorists to hide and find safe haven," said Colin Powell, secretary of state. "Terrorist cells have been broken up, networks disrupted and plots foiled."
Nevertheless, British security officials say the threat of terrorist action on UK and US targets by individuals or groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda remains high.
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