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UAE Hands Over Wanted al-Qaida Suspect to Pakistan - 2004-08-08

Pakistan has taken custody of an alleged al-Qaida operative suspected of involvement in two assassination attempts on the country's president.

Pakistan says Qari Saifullah Akhtar was arrested recently in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai and has now been handed over to Pakistani authorities.

Mr. Akhtar is accused of being a top leader of the al-Qaida network, among those in charge of the group's terror activities in Pakistan.

He also allegedly helped plan two failed attempts late last year to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Asked about Mr. Akhtar's possible links to the assassination attempts, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed says the suspect is wanted in connection with a long list of incidents.

"He's required in many investigations, not only two," he said.

Over the past several weeks, Pakistani authorities have detained more than a dozen alleged al-Qaida operatives.

Those arrested include Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national charged in absentia in a U.S. court for taking part in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

But Mr. Ahmed says Mr. Akhtar's arrest is not connected with those of Ghailani or fellow suspect Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan.

"He was on [our] wanted list for a very long time, but he has nothing to do with Naeem Khan or Ghailani," he said.

Mr. Ahmed did not say when Dubai authorities arrested Mr. Akhtar, who was believed to have been in Afghanistan until fleeing in 2001 when the Taleban government, sponsors of the al-Qaida movement, was defeated by U.S.-led forces.

Mr. Ahmed says authorities were hunting for Mr. Akhtar in Pakistan until his arrest in Dubai.