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Al Qaeda Arrest In June Opened Valuable Leads

By Kamran Khan
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 3, 2004; Page A01

KARACHI, Pakistan, Aug. 2 -- The arrest of a senior al Qaeda operative in June and his subsequent interrogation enabled U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agents to gather documents, e-mail addresses and cell phone text messages that suggested al Qaeda planned to strike targets in New York and Washington, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

The al Qaeda operative, Musaad Aruchi, was arrested here on June 12 by Pakistani paramilitary forces in an operation supervised by the CIA, officials said. According to a senior Pakistani intelligence official involved in the early interrogation of the suspect, Aruchi "was sure that al Qaeda would hit New York or Washington pretty soon."

Residents of Gujrat, Pakistan, watch the house where al Qaeda operative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was arrested Friday. (K.m. Chaudary -- AP)

In some editions of the Post, an Aug. 3 article referred separately to Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan and Abu Talaha as suspected al Qaeda operatives arrested last month in Pakistan. Khan and Talaha are the same person.

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"He had with him street maps of New York City without the front cover, and addresses of some other important buildings," the official said. "There were some data CDs also recovered from him."

Pakistani officials said Aruchi's capture had led to other important arrests, including the raid last week in the city of Gujrat that netted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

"The Americans always thought that Aruchi was a big catch because of his connection with other active al Qaeda operatives, particularly those planning to target the U.S.," another Pakistani intelligence official said.

Officials described Aruchi as a nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, who was arrested in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in March 2003. Like Mohammad, Aruchi was born in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, but his parents later moved to Kuwait and subsequently to other Persian Gulf states.

Officials said Aruchi is also a cousin of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who planned and carried out an attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and is serving a life sentence in the United States.

"It seems that this family has something in their genes against the icons of financial power in the U.S.," one Pakistani intelligence official said.

U.S. intelligence telephone and Internet intercepts enabled investigators to trace Aruchi to an apartment building in a congested Karachi neighborhood, other officials said.

Pakistani authorities held him for three days before he was flown in an unmarked CIA plane from a Pakistani air force base to a location that U.S. officials did not disclose to the Pakistanis, intelligence officials said. One official said the casual nature of Aruchi's remarks during his brief time in Pakistani custody provided hints that the al Qaeda operative was in touch with people planning another terrorist strike in the United States.

Intelligence gathered from Aruchi also led to two important arrests last month, another Pakistani official said.

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani, was arrested in the city of Lahore on July 13. A Pakistani official familiar with Khan's interrogation said, "Khan did some messaging for some of his Arab associates he knew from his days in Afghanistan. We can't categorize him as a key player, but he was definitely a foot soldier.

"Nothing very incriminating was found to connect him with any terrorist act or to the planning of an act, hence we are still not sure if he'll be prosecuted or not," the official said.

Information obtained from Khan, when compared with extensive debriefing of Aruchi, led U.S. and Pakistani officials to Ghailani, the Tanzanian whose arrest in Gujrat last week has been described by Pakistani and U.S. officials as a major breakthrough.

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