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Pakistan Detains Alleged Key  Planner of Sept. 11, 2001, Attacks - 2003-03-01


Authorities in Pakistan say they have arrested one of America's most wanted al-Qaida leaders.

Senior Pakistani officials say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was among three people detained Saturday at a house [in Rawalpindi], near the Pakistani capital. He was picked up along with a Pakistani and a man of Middle Eastern origin.

U.S. officials believe Kuwaiti-born Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was a key figure in planning the September 11, 2001, terror strikes on U.S. cities, blamed on the al-Qaida terrorist network. He was indicted in the United States in 1996 for his role in a plot to blow up commercial airliners.

Washington was offering $25 million for information leading to his arrest, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation put him on its list of 22 most wanted men.

Speaking to VOA, Pakistani interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat denied reports that American FBI agents also took part in Saturday's arrests.

"No, FBI is not involved in these arrests. We have our own system of surveillance, of information sharing with different agencies," he said. "And this was one of those operations which was conducted as per our own information and our own intelligence sources."

The minister describes the arrest of Shaikh Khalid Mohammed as a major breakthrough in the hunt for al-Qaida fugitives in Pakistan. He is the third high ranking associate of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden to be arrested.

In March last year, the organizations suspected financier, Abu Zubaydah, was captured from his hideout in the central Pakistani city of Faisalabad. Six months later another senior aide Ramzi bin al-Shaiba was arrested in the southern city of Karachi.

Hundreds of al-Qaida members are thought to have taken refuge in Pakistan since a U.S. led anti-terrorism force began hunting for them in neighboring Afghanistan more than a year ago. Pakistan says it has captured more than 422 suspected militants linked to the al-Qaida. Most of them are now in the U.S. custody.

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