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Pakistan captures key Al Qaeda commander

Younis al Mauritani, suspected of planning attacks on American oil pipelines and other economic targets, and two other senior Al Qaeda operatives were nabbed with help from the U.S., Pakistani officials say. The arrests suggest some easing of the tension between the two countries.

September 05, 2011|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Senior Al Qaeda commander Younis al Mauritani was captured in Quetta, Pakistani, above. Two other high-ranking operatives were also arrested after U.S. and Pakistani spy agencies joined forces.
Senior Al Qaeda commander Younis al Mauritani was captured in Quetta, Pakistani,… (Banaras Khan / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — With help from the U.S., Pakistan's main intelligence agency has nabbed a top Al Qaeda commander suspected of planning attacks on American oil pipelines, tankers and other economic targets. The arrest suggested that the deep tension that had derailed cooperation between the two countries may be easing.

Younis al Mauritani, a senior Al Qaeda commander, was arrested in the southern city of Quetta along with two other senior Al Qaeda operatives, Abdul Ghaffar al Shami and Messara al Shami, Pakistan's military said Monday. Authorities would not say when the men were arrested or give further details about the operation to track them down, except to say it was carried out by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and members of the Frontier Corps paramilitary force.

The U.S. provided information that led to the operation, said a senior Pakistani intelligence official, though he would not specify what that information was.

"All I know is that some technical assistance was provided by the Americans," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss such matters. "Leads were provided, which led to this operation, which was conducted independently by us."

The intelligence official said he had no information on what Mauritani had been planning. A prepared statement issued by Pakistan's military said the Al Qaeda commander had been plotting attacks on a variety of U.S. economic interests, such as gas and oil pipelines and hydroelectric dams, though the locations were not specified. He also had been planning to target American ships and oil tankers with speed boats filled with explosives, according to the statement.

Pakistani military authorities said Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had asked Mauritani to focus on targets of economic importance to the United States, Europe and Australia. A team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden in a raid in May on his compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, just north of the capital, Islamabad.

Pakistani officials said although they were not aware of Mauritani's exact position in Al Qaeda's hierarchy, he headed up the terror network's international operations, and they called his capture crucial.

His arrest comes nine days after U.S. officials reported that Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Atiyah Abdul Rahman, was killed in an American drone missile strike in Pakistan's volatile Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border. U.S. officials called Rahman's death a major blow to Al Qaeda's operations, particularly on the heels of Bin Laden's killing.

Pakistani military and civilian leaders were deeply angered by President Obama's decision to carry out the operation to kill Bin Laden without first consulting Islamabad. The raid, viewed by Pakistanis as a violation of their country's sovereignty, deepened the pall of mistrust that has burdened relations between Islamabad and Washington this year.

Cooperation between the CIA and the ISI effectively froze after the arrest and subsequent release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot to death two Pakistani men he thought were trying to rob him in the eastern city of Lahore in January.

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