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US Citizens Detained in Pakistan for Sheltering al-Qaida Members

Authorities in Pakistan accuse a detained physician and his family of "harboring" prominent members of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Dr. Ahmad Javed Khwaja and four of his relatives were detained in December after a raid on their house near the city of Lahore. The raid was conducted with the help of officials from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The doctor's family has challenged the detentions in a high court in Lahore.

In proceedings Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Sher Zaman told the judge that the detainees had assisted and given shelter to some of al-Qaida's most wanted members.

The prosecutor said in a written statement that the Pakistani doctor sheltered Abu Yasir al-Jazari, identified as an Algerian-Moroccan dual national, Assadullah Aziz and Sheikh Said al-Misri listed as Egyptians, and North African Abu Faraj.

The statement makes no mention of the whereabouts of the al-Qaida members and none of the men appear on the U.S. list of 22 most wanted terrorists.

According to the statement, Abu Faraj is believed to be the head of al-Qaida's network in North Africa and a deputy of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who is considered a key planner of the September 11, the attacks in the United States.

Dr. Khwaja was arrested with two of his sons, his brother and a nephew. The doctor and his sons are U.S. citizens, and his brother and nephew are Canadian citizens.

A significant number of al-Qaida fugitives are thought to be hiding in Pakistan, after escaping the U.S. anti-terrorism operation in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities have been tracking them down with the help of the U.S. FBI. In an interview with VOA, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri stressed the United States only provides intelligence and does not conduct operations.

"Yes, there is intelligence gathering and if the Americans tell our agencies that they find people in such and such areas and if there is enough ground for those suspicions, Pakistani agencies do act on that but that does not mean that the operation has been conducted by foreign personnel. It's Pakistanis who undertake all operations," he said.

Pakistani officials say that they have arrested more than 400 suspected al-Qaida militants since the U.S.-led anti-terrorism war started in Afghanistan a year ago. FBI involvement in the operations has angered many Pakistanis, particularly supporters of Islamic parties.