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Leader Pledges to Rid Pakistan of Al Qaeda

Asia: After turning over a key suspect, Musharraf declares he'll continue to hunt foreign terrorists.

September 18, 2002|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KARACHI, Pakistan — One day after turning over key Sept. 11 suspect Ramzi Binalshibh to American authorities, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday vowed to root out any Al Qaeda operatives remaining in his nation and promised that foreigners among them would be handed to the United States or other countries to face justice.

Al Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime last year will be hunted down and will not be allowed to make themselves comfortable in Pakistan, Musharraf said in two appearances in this southern port city where security forces last week killed two Al Qaeda suspects and captured 10 others.

Musharraf revealed that the captives included a Saudi, an Egyptian and eight Yemenis. Binalshibh and four others were given over to U.S. custody Monday; five remain in Pakistan undergoing interrogation by the Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's security agency.

Associated Press quoted an unnamed Pakistani senior security source Tuesday as saying that one of the five held by the Pakistanis has been tentatively identified as the killer of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent kidnapped here in January and later slain. Pearl had been working on a story about Richard C. Reid, the Briton accused of trying to detonate a shoe bomb last December on a flight from Paris to Miami.

According to the AP report, the detainee, a Yemeni, is a suspected member of the Al Qaeda terrorist network who allegedly killed Pearl three days after the journalist tried to escape his captors. Authorities have long suspected an Al Qaeda link to the killing, although the four men convicted of kidnapping and murdering Pearl were Pakistanis affiliated with militant Islamic groups.

The AP report said that the same man who led police to Pearl's body in a shallow grave in Karachi, Fazal Karim, was taken to see the suspected Al Qaeda members captured by police last week and fingered one of them as Pearl's killer. The police official quoted, however, did not identify the alleged killer by name.

Musharraf used his two-day visit here to underline his determination to rid Pakistan of the Islamic extremists who have also targeted him and his military government.

The president called the raids that netted Binalshibh a "great achievement." Binalshibh, a Yemeni national, admitted being the coordinator of the Sept. 11 attacks in an interview with Arab-language television network Al Jazeera that aired last week before the raid.

A city of about 14 million people with some neighborhoods so lawless that they are practically off-limits to police, Karachi would seem to be the ideal haven for Al Qaeda militants.

They could hide in Afghan refugee enclaves and draw support from militant Islamic groups that have proliferated in recent years, stoked by popular rancor at the perceived injustices suffered by Muslims in the portion of the Himalayan region of Kashmir held by India rather than Pakistan.

"We have committed ourselves to this war on terrorism, and whatever we have promised we will do," Musharraf told journalists. "We will not allow Al Qaeda to operate here. Pakistan will continue to hunt them down."

Later, dedicating a new private Islamic bank, Musharraf said he did not think there are a large number of Al Qaeda operatives in the country. But however many there are, he said, "we will make sure that they cannot use Pakistan as a base."

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Special correspondent Shamim Ur-Rehman contributed to this report.

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