Rekindling ties: Top al Qaeda operatives captured from Quetta

Published: September 6, 2011

Younis al Mauritani. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD/ WASHINGTON: Military officials in Pakistan announced on Monday the arrest of three men whom they said were senior al Qaeda operatives who had been planning attacks on American and other Western targets, issuing a statement that celebrated the arrests as evidence of cooperation between the United States and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Senior al Qaeda leader Younis al Mauritani was picked up in the suburbs of Quetta along with two other high-ranking operatives, Abdul Ghaffar al Shami and Messara al Shami, for the global terror network, the military said in a statement.

The announcement put strong emphasis on past cooperation between the agencies and stressed their continued work together, a shift in tone for the Pakistan military, which has been bitter toward the United States in the four months since it was caught off guard by a Navy Seals raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

(Read: ISI-CIA relations have been repaired, says PM)

“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,” said Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR).

The White House hailed Pakistan’s capture of Mauritani as an example of counter terrorism cooperation, and a US official said the United States had provided “critical” tips and technical help.

“We applaud the actions of Pakistan’s intelligence and security services that led to the capture of a senior al Qaeda operative who was involved in planning attacks against the interests of the United States and many other countries,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

Earnest called it ‘an example’ of the longstanding partnership between the US and Pakistan in fighting terrorism, which has taken many terrorists off the battlefield over the past decade.

In an email interview with The Express Tribune, a US official monitoring the situation said Mauritani’s capture was “another major blow to al Qaeda.”

“The US provided critical lead information and technical assistance in working with Pakistan to eliminate the threat posed by this terrorist,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The Pakistanis deserve real credit for their hard investigative and operational work in taking deadly threats like al Mauritani off the battlefield,” the official added. “There is clearly more to be done, and both sides recognise the imperative of acting together against these dangerous targets.”

Mauritani does not figure in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of most wanted terrorists, though an unnamed Western intelligence official told the AFP news agency: “If it’s confirmed, it’s a good catch.” However, Mauritani’s name did pop up once in an October 2010 article in the Washington-based The Long War Journal, which keeps track of developments related to the global war on terror.

Ahmad Siddiqui, the German-Afghan at the heart of al Qaeda’s latest plot against European cities, has reportedly described a previously unknown terrorist as al Qaeda’s number three.

According to German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, Siddiqui has told his interrogators at the detention facility in Bagram that Sheikh Younis al Mauritani was both al Qaeda’s external operations chief and third in the chain of command, behind only Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

However, US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal denied that Sheikh Younis al Mauritani is as senior as Siddiqui has reportedly claimed. Sheikh Younis is involved in Qaeda’s plotting against the West, these officials said, but he is not Qaeda’s number three.

According to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Mauritani was handpicked by Osama bin Laden to focus on targets of economical importance in the US, Europe and Australia. Mauritani was planning to target United States economic interests including gas/oil pipelines, power generation dams and strike ships/oil tankers through explosives-laden speedboats in international waters, it added.

The army described the arrest as yet another ‘fatal blow’ to al-Qaeda.

(Read: Timeline – Fighting al Qaeda)

“The intimate cooperation between Pakistan and United States intelligence agencies has prevented a number of high profile terrorist acts not only inside Pakistan/United States but elsewhere in the world,” the statement said.

The arrest of the Qaeda operatives came a week after the US claimed to have killed al Qaeda’s second-in-command Atiyah Abd al Rahman in a drone strike in North Waziristan. However, Pakistan has yet to confirm his death.

This was the fourth such arrest Pakistan has made since the May 2 Abbottabad raid, which raised questions about the ability of the country’s security establishment to track down high-profile terrorists. On May 17, Pakistan Army arrested previously unknown what it described as a ‘senior al-Qaeda operative’ identified as Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub alias Abu Sohaib Al Makki from Karachi.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Faction
    Sep 6, 2011 - 6:57AM

    Nicely done, ISI. Now launch these operations in the tribal areas and there will be no need for drone strikes.

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  • BruteForce
    Sep 6, 2011 - 7:42AM

    This is something Pakistan ought to do. Not something extra ordinary. They should also kick out the Haqqanis who are using Pakistani Territory to launch attacks into Afghanistan.

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  • vasan
    Sep 6, 2011 - 7:44AM

    When are they going to release them for want of evidence/witnesses and things like that???

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  • Iftikhar-ur-Rehman
    Sep 6, 2011 - 8:43AM

    @vasan:
    Three months maximum!!!!

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  • jack
    Sep 6, 2011 - 8:53AM

    @vasan:
    They will not release them They will escape along with the rest of their comrad in jail.

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  • A.Raja Rao
    Sep 6, 2011 - 8:55AM

    Why were the Al Quaeda members in Pakistan in the first place?

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  • khalid shaikh
    Sep 6, 2011 - 9:54AM

    Pak army is in urgent need of 800 mil dollars military assitance that US has suspended.

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  • The Truth
    Sep 6, 2011 - 10:30AM

    Nice game…..they both traind them innocent use them and then arrest.

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  • Sep 6, 2011 - 10:46AM

    @khalid shaikh:

    Where is Moral Brigade????

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  • Prakash
    Sep 6, 2011 - 10:55AM

    My question is….if drones are violation of soveriegnity of Pakistan, are foreign jihadis using Pakistani territory to conduct their operations also not violation of Pakistan sovereignity?

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  • hanbali Ahmed
    Sep 6, 2011 - 11:01AM

    pak army cannot be helping US and also claiming they have severed ties with US. Army needs to give a statement to the people of pakistan. Either the army is with Pak people or working against them and serving US interests in the region.Recommend

  • maestro
    Sep 6, 2011 - 1:20PM

    @A.Raja Rao:
    Because they ran into Pakistan from Afghanistan when the US invaded. Helloo?

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  • Zulfiqar Haider
    Sep 6, 2011 - 1:45PM

    Al-Qaeda is seemingly moving towards its end. Apparently, it’s just the numbers that are being reduced, but hopefully the ideology will also fade away with numbers.

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  • Saddique
    Sep 6, 2011 - 3:25PM

    @Prakash:

    Please say some thing new.

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  • Sep 6, 2011 - 5:18PM

    @khalid shaikh:
    You are right friend. Necessity is mother of invention

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  • Sep 6, 2011 - 5:22PM

    @Zulfiqar Haider:
    Sir, I do not agree. In this case AlQuaida may fade but ideology will remain alive due to people’s support.

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  • Cautious
    Sep 6, 2011 - 6:05PM

    Lets hope Pakistan turns this guy over to the American’s before the Terrorist Courts set him free.

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  • umish katan
    Sep 7, 2011 - 1:41AM

    @Cautious:
    No they will break loose and go free after the court relinqueshes the terroists to the Americans in Pakistan. Someone in army will attack the Americans on the wayt o the airport and then the terroists will go free so the government can say :”See… we turned them over and they lost them…” not our fault….

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