Pakistan Trumpets Qaeda Arrests

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf gestures during a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday Jan. 23, 2004. Musharraf said Friday that he is waiting for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks before considering whether to improve Pakistani ties with Israel.
AP
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf says Pakistan has been "90 percent" successful in arresting suspects behind a series of high-profile terror attacks, including against key government leaders.

Yet senior officials said Tuesday that some al Qaeda fugitives escaped after news reports revealed the arrest of a computer expert for Osama bin Laden's network who was cooperating with investigators.

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old Pakistani, was nabbed in a July 13 raid in the eastern city of Lahore. His capture was a signal victory for Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. He led authorities to a key al Qaeda figure and sent e-mails to terrorists so investigators could trace their locations.

In an interview published in a Pakistani newspaper Tuesday, Musharraf hailed the efforts of the country's intelligence agencies.

"We have achieved an unprecedented 90 percent success to unearth elements involved in terrorist attacks against myself, prime minister-in-waiting Shaukat Aziz and in other high-profile cases," Musharraf was quoted as saying by The News.

Pakistan has seen a string of bombings and suicide attacks over the past year, including two suicide bombings by Islamic militants that the president narrowly escaped in December, and another last month targeting Aziz, the current finance minister and prime minister designate. Seven people were killed in the attack, though Aziz was unhurt.

The attacks appear to have reinforced Musharraf's resolve to crack down on al Qaeda, whose elusive leader has long been believed to be hiding out someplace along Pakistan's forbidding border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has arrested about 30 terror suspects in less than a month.

But on Tuesday, two senior officials expressed dismay that the arrest of Khan made it into the media too soon - reported first in American newspapers on Aug. 2 after it was disclosed to journalists by U.S. officials in Washington.

"Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al Qaeda suspects ran away," one of the Pakistani officials said on condition of anonymity.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that Khan's name had been disclosed to reporters in Washington "on background," meaning that it could be published, but the information could not be attributed by name to the official who had revealed it.

The Pakistani officials said that after Khan's arrest, other al Qaeda suspects abruptly changed their hideouts and moved to unknown places. On Monday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., asked the White House to explain why Khan's name was revealed.

The disclosure on Aug. 1 came as the Bush administration was defending its decision to warn about possible attacks against U.S. financial buildings in New York, Washington and Newark, New Jersey.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan cautioned Monday that information may be more limited about future raids against al Qaida suspects.

Khan led authorities to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani - a Tanzanian with a $25 million American bounty on his head for his suspected involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa - and the capture of about 20 other al Qaeda suspects. The arrests also prompted a series of raids in Britain and uncovered past al Qaeda surveillance in the United States.

Pakistani officials over the weekend have said they are searching for two North Africans: Abu Farj, a Libyan, and Hamza, an Egyptian, who are believed to have spent some time in Pakistan with Ghailani.

A Pakistani security official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that despite failing to capture some al Qaeda suspects after Khan's arrest, the country's security agencies were chasing them and would eventually get them.

The official would not reveal the names or nationalities of the fugitives who evaded arrest.

Ghailani and Khan are still in the custody of Pakistan.

Officials say Ghailani and Khan's computer contained photographs of potential targets in the United States and Britain, including London's Heathrow Airport and underpasses beneath London buildings.

By Matthew Pennington