Pakistan Holds Top Al Qaeda Suspect
Key Figure in 1998 Embassy Bombings Arrested After 10-Hour Shootout
By Kamran Khan
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 30, 2004; Page A10
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 30 -- Pakistan has captured Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who is sought by the United States as a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, officials said Friday.
Ghailani, a Tanzanian citizen said to be in his early thirties, was seized early Sunday, along with his wife and five other African or Pakistani al Qaeda suspects, following a joint Pakistani-U.S. intelligence operation, senior Pakistani police and intelligence officials said. The capture followed a 10-hour shootout in the industrial city of Gujrat, 125 miles south of Islamabad.
"This is a big success," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said in an unusual late-night announcement on Pakistan's Geo television network. "More importantly, we are certain of gathering some latest intelligence on al Qaeda from him," Hayat said in an interview later.
The operation to capture Ghailani, who is on the list of the FBI's 22 most wanted terrorists, was supervised by agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and coordinated with CIA and FBI officials, according to an official in Punjab state who was present. The official said 240 Punjab policemen conducted the raid on a rented house in a middle-class neighborhood of Gujrat.
No U.S. official was visible on the scene, the official said.
In Washington, a senior FBI official said the capture "looks like the right guy." The FBI did not play a role in the raid, said the official, who declined to be identified because of FBI policies.
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow declined to comment on whether U.S. intelligence played any role in the capture.
Ghailani was being held at an undisclosed location and would be debriefed "to our satisfaction before handing him over to the U.S. for the trial," Hayat said. Another senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. agents had been participating in the interrogation since the arrest and that Ghailani was isolated from the other suspects shortly after his capture.
Two Punjab police officials said intelligence officials who accompanied them in the raid were particularly interested in two laptop computers recovered from the hideout.
"We understand that all technical stuff like the computers and cell phones and a flash computer drive have already been handed to the U.S. agents who were definitely present in Gujrat at the time of the raid," one official said.
Another senior Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ghailani's capture was a result of the arrest last month of a lesser al Qaeda suspect in Karachi. Electronic intercepts conducted by U.S. technical teams based in Pakistan led them to the Gujrat hideout.
A senior Punjab police officer and an intelligence official, both involved in the operation to nab Ghailani, said in separate interviews that U.S. and Pakistani officials had confirmed his identity shortly after the arrest.
Pakistani officials have rejected allegations that they delayed the announcement for four days to obtain maximum publicity. Hayat said the delay was a result of "double checks and even triple checks in such cases."
But in the arrests of other high-profile al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, including Abu Zubayida, Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Ramzi Bin al Shibh, the news media received word almost immediately.
"What difference will it make if we do not rush to make a hasty unconfirmed claim?" Hayat said. He said he saw no connection between the late announcement of Ghailani's arrest and the Democratic National Convention in the United States, where Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts was about to accept his party's nomination for president.
Ghailani was indicted on Dec. 16, 1998, in the Southern District of New York for his alleged role in the embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. More than 200 people, including 12 Americans, were killed and thousands were wounded. Ghailani is suspected of buying the truck used as the vehicle bomb in the attack in Dar es Salaam, in which 12 people were killed. He could face the death penalty if convicted. The United States had offered a $25 million reward for his capture.
Osama bin Laden is believed by U.S. authorities to have selected the targets. Several bin Laden associates have been convicted in the bombings, but others are still at large.
Ghailani was also implicated in an effort by al Qaeda to finance terrorist operations by trading diamonds in Africa, an operation that began six months after the embassy bombings. U.S. intelligence documents list Ghailani among al Qaeda operatives who traveled to Liberia in March 1999 and later toured diamond fields controlled by Liberian officials and their allies in the rebel Revolutionary United Front in neighboring Sierra Leone. An investigation by several countries found evidence that al Qaeda operatives oversaw a $20 million operation to corner the market on African gemstones.
Staff writers Dan Eggen and Dana Priest in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company