Pakistan said it arrested al-Qaeda’s top leader for international operations with American help, sounding a conciliatory tone on bilateral ties strained by the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden in May.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate captured Younis Al-Mauritani and al-Qaeda operatives Abdul Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami in the city of Quetta, the military’s press office said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The arrests are part of “a strong, historic intelligence relationship” between both countries, the statement said.
The announcement came two weeks after U.S. officials said an American missile killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who they said became al-Qaeda’s deputy leader following the killing of bin Laden by Navy Seals in Pakistan. The unilateral raid exacerbated tensions, as Pakistan expelled more than 100 American military personnel and the U.S. withheld $800 million in military aid.
The army described Al-Mauritani as “al-Qaeda commander for external operations” who planned strikes at economic targets in the U.S. Europe and Australia and had considered attacks on oil pipelines, tankers and dams. He is more likely a member of a committee charged with conducting such operations, according to Bill Roggio, director of the U.S. monitoring group Long War Journal, citing American intelligence officials.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest praised the arrests, calling them “an example of the longstanding partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan in fighting terrorism, which has taken many terrorists off the battlefield over the past decade.”
The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program offered $1 million for information on Abd al-Rahman’s whereabouts. It does not name al-Mauritani on its list of the 40 top militants for whom rewards are offered.
Among few earlier public references to al-Mauritani, the German news magazine Der Spiegel last year cited sources it did not name as saying he had met German Islamic militants in Pakistan to discuss attacks on economic targets in Europe.
The statement stressed cooperation between U.S. and Pakistan intelligence agencies, saying the “continue to work together to enhance security of their respective nations.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July called ties between the two countries “at its low point.” He has been among U.S. officials who have spoken publicly about frustrations with the ISI, saying on April 20 that it still “has a longstanding relationship” with a Taliban faction led by Jalaluddin Haqqani.
A recent Defense Department report called Haqqani “the most significant threat” to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.