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Friday, August 18, 2006

Pakistan gives US forces location of Al-Qaeda plot suspect

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan has informed US-led coalition forces that an Al-Qaeda kingpin linked to an alleged plot to blow up airliners is based in eastern
Afghanistan, senior security officials said.

The Pakistani officials said the unnamed Al-Qaeda member of Middle Eastern origin was based in Afghanistan's volatile eastern province of Kunar, which borders Pakistan's militant-infested northwestern tribal areas.

The information came from the interrogation of Rashid Rauf, a Briton whose arrest by Pakistani agents in early August allegedly led to the uncovering of the conspiracy to bomb US-bound planes, they said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not identify the militant but said he was on the level below the terror network's chief
Osama bin Laden and deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"His area of operations is in Kunar," one of the senior officials told AFP.

The official said their information about his whereabouts was based on information provided by Rauf and added that "coalition partners" had been informed.

When asked if the US-led forces stationed in Afghanistan were chasing the individual, the Pakistani official said: "Obviously we are working very closely, and cooperation among the coalition partners is excellent."

He would not divulge if there had been any progress in the hunt.

Afghanistan, which has quarrelled with its "war on terror" ally for months over militancy along their rugged and porous border, said Pakistan was trying to shift the blame.

"As we've said in the past, we believe that information coming from the Pakistani intelligence services is diversionary," said Daud Muradiaan, a senior advisor in the Afghan foreign ministry.

"We in Afghanistan believe that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for Al-Qaeda. As a result of ours and the international community's efforts, Afghanistan doesn't remain a safehaven for Al-Qaeda."

But Pakistani officials say that Rauf used members of the Islamic militant group Jamaatul Furqan -- blamed for a 2002 attack on an Islamabad church -- as a conduit to communicate with the Al-Qaeda operative.

Islamabad confirmed last week the arrest of two Britons and five Pakistani "facilitators" but has identified only Rauf. Security sources told AFP Friday that Rauf's father Abdul had also been detained in recent days.

Rashid Rauf was communicating with the Kunar-based Al-Qaeda contact, the official said but did not explain wether the communication was through human messengers or by phone.

Al-Qaeda leaders including bin Laden are said by Pakistani officials to frequently use couriers to avoid sophisticated electronic surveillance by Pakistani and US security agencies.

Mountainous, forested Kunar borders Pakistani tribal areas where US and Afghan officials have said they believe bin Laden and his henchmen are most likely hiding.

Al-Qaeda was once hosted by Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime, but its members fled across the rugged frontier after the invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

In January Al-Qaeda's chief of operations in Kunar, Abu Obaidah al-Masri, was said to have died in a US airstrike on a village in the Pakistani tribal zone of Bajaur, directly across the border from Kunar.

The missile attack targeted but missed Zawahiri, while four other militants including a close relative of the Egyptian were killed along with up to 18 civilians.

US-led coalition troops are still battling an ongoing insurgency by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-led militants across southern and eastern Afghanistan, including in Kunar.

A coalition solider died in a clash in Kunar on Thursday, while eight "extremists" were killed there on Wednesday, they added.
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