(AP) ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities have arrested several more al-Qaida suspects in the past few days, including one man seized trying to leave the country from an airport in the eastern city of Lahore and another arrested in a nearby town, a senior government official and police said Tuesday.
The arrests were all made in the last 72 hours and the suspects were being interrogated, said the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One of the men arrested identified himself as a Syrian named Juma Ibrahim. He was taken in Sunday in Hafizabad, a town near the eastern city of Lahore, said district police chief Aslam Ghauri. He said the man told authorities that he was in the town for business, but had no references and could not say who he was meeting with, Ghauri said.
The man has been turned over to Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s spy agency, Ghauri said.
The senior government official said another man had been arrested trying to board a plane in Lahore with several questionable documents. He would give no details.
“Yes, we have made several arrests of al-Qaida-linked people,” said the official. It was not clear where the other arrest was made or how significant the suspects are.
The official said they were believed linked to other al-Qaida suspects taken in recently, including a computer expert arrested July 13 that has been identified as Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, also known as Abu Talha.
Information provided by Khan, as well as another al-Qaida suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian arrested July 25, was a major factor in the decision by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to issue a warning about a possible al-Qaida attack on prominent financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, New Jersey.
Pakistani officials are also pointing to the arrest in June of Masrab Arochi, the nephew of former al-Qaida No. 3 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, as providing useful intelligence. Arochi was arrested in June along with nine others in raids in the southern port city of Karachi.
The intelligence official said Arochi led police to a network of other operatives and that several as-yet-undisclosed arrests have been made. He would not confirm that there was a direct link between Arochi and the arrest of Khan, the computer expert.
Arochi has been made available to U.S. intelligence agents, the official said. His whereabouts are not clear, nor would the official say whether he had been formally extradited. Pakistan has in the past vowed not to turn him over to the United States.
Ghauri said the Syrian suspect was arrested at a bus station. He had no passport or travel documents, only a U.N. refugee agency card that identified him as a refugee and allowed him to travel to Islamabad.
Meanwhile, more information emerged about the hunt that led authorities to Ghailani.
A senior intelligence official told The Associated Press that the man had spent some time in the tribal area of South Waziristan before traveling in recent weeks to Gujrat. He may even have met his wife there, an Uzbek woman taken into custody along with him and several children in Gujrat.
Ghailani arrived in Pakistan on a Kenyan Airlines flight to Karachi on Aug. 6, 1998, a day before bombs went off at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. He was a ghost until his arrest nearly six years later, apparently as he was planning to flee the country.
The intelligence official said Ghailani was helped by al-Qaida “facilitators” who arranged for him to hide in several local houses in the tribal area and stay out of sight.
Ghailani is African and would stand out among the tribal people along the Pakistan-Afghan border, but he likely never was seen by the locals.
“When these people enter a house, they don’t come out. They have one or two local people who arrange food for them, and even they rarely see the person,” said the intelligence official, who also spoke on condition his name not be used. “They try to maintain that level of secrecy.”
Ghailani is also suspected of spending time in the southern port city of Karachi, home to a number of local extremist groups as well as al-Qaida, and in the eastern city of Lahore.
“We were searching for him for a while and we were several days behind him in different cities, until the moment was right and we caught him,” the senior government official said.