August 11, 2006

Pakistan says it holds al Qaeda man in UK plot

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Friday it had
arrested a man it described as an al Qaeda operative who had
played a key role in a plot British police said they had foiled
to blow up transatlantic airliners.

"He is a British citizen of Pakistani origin. He is an al
Qaeda operative with linkages in Afghanistan," Interior
Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told Reuters.

Sherpao said the arrest of the man, identified as Rashid
Rauf, had led to a wave of arrests in Britain that headed off
the alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 aircraft flying from
Britain to the United States.

A senior government official earlier said that two Britons
of Pakistani descent along with five other suspects had been
arrested in Pakistan as part of a coordinated operation to foil
the plot. The name of the other Briton has not been released.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the
two Britons were key catches, and had been arrested last week.

Investigators were still establishing the identities of the
other five people arrested, but they appeared to be less
important, he added.

A Foreign Ministry statement said: "A key person arrested
is British national Rashid Rauf. There are indications of (an)
Afghanistan-based al Qaeda connection."

British authorities have named a Tayib Rauf as one of 24
suspects arrested this week in Britain. It was not clear
whether he and Rashid Rauf are related.

Pakistan said the alleged airliner plot was thwarted after
active coordination between Pakistani, British and U.S.
intelligence agencies.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair phoned Pakistani
President Pervez Musharraf, a crucial ally in the U.S.-led war
on terrorism, and thanked him for Islamabad's help in the case,
the Foreign Ministry said.


U.S. officials have said would-be suicide bombers were just
days away from simultaneous attacks that one British police
chief said would have amounted to "mass murder on an
unimaginable scale."

Officials pointed to similarities to the September 11, 2001
hijacking of U.S. airliners for attacks on New York and
Washington and "Operation Bojinka," a plan never carried out,
to blow up passenger planes over the Pacific Ocean in 1995.

A key figure in both was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the al
Qaeda operations planner arrested in Pakistan in 2003.

Several al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his
deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding in Pakistan
or across the border in Afghanistan. The militant network has
forged links with some Pakistani groups.

At least two of the British Muslims involved in bomb
attacks on London underground trains and a bus that killed 52
people in July last year had visited Pakistan months earlier,
raising suspicions they had ties to militants in the country.

Pakistan has arrested hundreds of people it says are al
Qaeda members since joining the U.S.-led global war against
terrorism that followed the September 11 attacks.