ISLAMABAD: A series of arrests and the seizure of truckloads of explosive material in Pakistan this week averted a major terrorist attack, possibly as serious as an explosive-laden aircraft slamming into the US Consulate in Karachi, the interior minister said yesterday.
“The details of the terrorist attacks being planned are still being pieced together,'' Faisal Saleh Hayyat said in an interview. “What I can say is that we have averted high-profile terrorist attacks in Pakistan.''
US authorities believe one of those suspected plans might have been to fly a small fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter into the US Consulate. Washington announced the suspected plot, saying al-Qaeda operatives seemed fixated on air assaults like the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
In the last week, Pakistan has arrested at least 10 suspected al-Qaeda members, including Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, best known as Tawfiq bin Attash or Tawfiq Attash Khallad, and described by US counter-terrorism officials as one of the most wanted al-Qaeda fugitives.
Pakistan authorities also arrested Ali Abdulaziz, described as “an important man'' by Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema, who heads Pakistan's counter-terrorism unit. Abdulaziz is a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was arrested in Pakistan in March and is suspected of being a key planner of the Sept 11 attacks.
Police also seized hundreds of pounds of explosives, a truckload of bomb-making supplies, detonators and an arsenal of machine guns and assault rifles. Police say they intercepted a pickup truck filled with bags of potatoes in which explosive material was hidden.
The men in the truck eventually led police to Khallad, and the interior minister said he is confident the trail will not end there.
“We have been making many arrests and we will continue to arrest more people. We are questioning everyone and I won't say how many we have arrested so far, but we are still picking up people,'' Hayyat said.
In the port of Gwadar, about 100km west of Karachi, police said yesterday that they arrested an Egyptian and a Pakistani believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. Police refused to identify the men.
Hayyat, meanwhile, refused to say whether Khallad provided information about the alleged plans to attack the US Consulate.
Pakistan deployed hundreds of security personnel to the US Consulate and contacted local flying clubs, urging them to only rent aircraft to regular customers, said Imran Shaukat, a police spokesman in Karachi.
“It is our responsibility to protect and preserve the interests of the foreign missions in Pakistan,'' Hayyat said. “Thank God we are doing it well.''
Pakistani authorities say all the detained men, including Khallad, were still being questioned in Pakistan, countering newspaper reports that Khallad had been turned over to the American FBI.
Two other suspects – Mohammed Anwar and Habibullah – were brought to court in Karachi in an armoured personnel carrier, escorted by police and paramilitary troops. Both men had their faces covered.
They had been in the custody of Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers before the court turned them over to police. They'll return to court on May 9, said Abdul Hamid Gulla, a police official at the Anti-Terrorist Court. – AP
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