Sunday, August 08, 2004

Road to Al Qaeda runs through Pakistan

Computer files show web of terrorist contacts reaches from Pakistan to US and Britain.

by Jim Bencivenga | csmonitor.com


The spotlight on Al Qaeda's plans to target big banks and financial icons in New York, Washington, and London, as well as the discovery of a terror cell intent on bombing Heathrow Airport, is about to get brighter.

And as it does, Pakistan will in turn come under its glare as the United States and England rachet up efforts to crush Al Qaeda, reports the Times of India.

Pakistan is "widely seen as the ground zero of terrorism," and a "flurry of arrests over the last 48 hours of suspected Al Qaeda elements, all of whose trail leads back to Pakistan," further confirms this, reports the Times.

CNN reports that the recent arrests "have exposed an intricate web of Al Qaeda contacts in which the terror network's operational information flowed among Pakistan, Britain and the United States."

Overshadowed by coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, as well as the ongoing conflict in Iraq, has been "an intense Pakistani military operation directed at suspected Al Qaeda hideouts along the Afghan-Pakistan border" reports the Washington Post.
The military effort has forced the fighters out of the rugged remote tribal areas, just inside Pakistan, and into more urban areas, where they are more visible and vulnerable to capture...
And the hoped-for arrests did follow. In all, at least 20 people have been detained in Pakistan in the past month, reports the Associated Press.

But as important as the military action and arrests have proven, the real victory is the major intelligence coup that has resulted, reports the Washington Post.
The seizure of a number of Al Qaeda suspects and the discovery of a cache of computer information ... contributed to last weekend's decision to increase the terror alert in several US cities, Pakistani officials said Thursday.

The capture of Ahmed Khalfan Ghaliani, a Tanzanian indicted by the US for his role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, and a Pakistani computer expert identified as Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, provided US intelligence agents with their greatest leads, reports the AP. Maps, photographs and other details of possible targets in the US and Britain were found on computers belonging to Mr. Ghailani.

As a result of his arrest in Pakistan, Mr. Khan was "forced to take part in an undercover 'sting' operation to help the authorities in Britain and the US track down key Al Qaeda agents," reports the Times of London.

The arrest of Abu Issa al-Hindi, an Al Qaeda suspect now in custody in Britain, was triggered "after computer forensic specialists [from the US] were dispatched to Pakistan to retrieve and decipher the information found on computers linked to Ghaliani and Khan," reports the New York Times.

He was said to have been under surveillance by British authorities even before the computer files were discovered last week reports the Times.
Hindi directed the surveillance of financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington during 2000 and 2001 and prepared the detailed reports about them that have prompted fears of an attack, senior [US] government officials said on Thursday.

Hindi was described by a US senior government official as "a key Al Qaeda operative in Great Britain," and by far the most important Al Qaeda "figure detained as part of an American-led effort to unravel the tangle of clues uncovered with the discovery in Pakistan of computer files containing the surveillance reports."

Will such successes continue?

No one is suggesting that the threat from Al Qaeda doesn't remain high. But it may be that a significant shift in momentum in the terror war has commenced - starting in Pakistan and carrying over to England and the US.

Referrring to the spate of arrests in both Pakistan and England, a senior US counterterrorism official told the New York Times that "Over the next 60 days, my guess is you're going to be seeing more of this kind of thing, As we look more, we're going to find more."
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