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Pakistan Arrests 20 Suspected Al-Qaida Militants - 2004-08-05

Pakistan says that, in recent weeks, it has captured a total of 20 suspected al-Qaida militants, including locals and foreigners, and officials say much important information has been obtained from them.

The information on recent al-Qaida arrests in Pakistan has leaked out slowly over the past couple of weeks. On Thursday, an official put the total number of arrests at 20, including a Tanzanian-born senior member of the terror network, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for the capture of the suspect, who is wanted for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S embassies in East Africa.

Another suspect captured with Mr. Ghailani is Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani national described as a computer expert. Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat says investigators have obtained vital information from some of the suspected al-Qaida operatives.

He told reporters Thursday that Pakistan is a member of the international fight against terrorism, and is sharing some of the findings with partners in the fight. Mr. Hayyat says this kind of close cooperation is needed to dismantle the al-Qaida network.

"We have extracted a wealth of information from all those who have been arrested. As far as passing the information over to any countries is concerned, it is absolutely important," he said. "These terrorists, they have their networks spread out all over the world."

Reports have linked the recent arrests of al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan to the detention of terrorist suspects in Britain, and to the United States putting certain financial institutions on high alert against terror attacks. Pakistani officials have refused to link the arrests to those developments.

Pakistan has captured more than 500 al-Qaida suspects of different nationalities within the past three years, including some of the highest-ranking members. Most were eventually handed over to U.S. custody, but Mr. Hayyat says the recent detainees, including Mr. Ghailani, are still being held in Pakistan.

"They have been arrested by Pakistan. They have been involved in acts of subversion and violence in Pakistan," he said. "So, until and unless Pakistani agencies complete their own investigations, there is absolutely no chance of them being handed over to any other country."

Mr. Ghailani and 13 associates were captured last week in the central Pakistani city of Gujrat. The group included two South African nationals who were reportedly planning terrorist attacks in their home country, although officials say the two men are still being questioned.

In an interview Thursday with a leading Pakistani newspaper, President Pervez Musharraf said the country was winning the war on terror. But the president warned that the crackdown on al-Qaida would provoke more terror attacks in Pakistan.

Mr. Musharraf survived two attempts on his life last year, while his finance minister and prime minister designate, Shaukat Aziz, survived an assassination attempt just last Friday.