Washington, Sept. 16 (Reuters): The United States has taken custody of captured key al Qaida suspect Ramzi Binalshibh from Pakistan and flown him and other suspected terrorists to a secret location outside that country, US officials said today.
The officials told Reuters that Binalshibh, captured last week in Karachi and accused of playing a key role in planning the September 11 attacks on America, was not taken to the United States.
“We have control of him. We’re talking to him,” said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified.
The officials said Binalshibh and up to a half dozen other suspects arrested in a shootout on Wednesday’s anniversary of the attacks, had been flown out of the country. They refused to say where, but said Binalshibh was not in the custody of the US military.
Pakistan’s interior minister Moinuddin Haider said in Karachi earlier today that his country had completed its own investigation of Binalshibh and was prepared to extradite him to the United States if Washington requested.
Binalshibh, a Yemini national, is said to have been a prominent member of an al Qaida cell based in the German city of Hamburg.
He is accused of having played an important role in planning the attacks on the United States along with another member of that cell, Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the hijackers.
The German government had issued an international arrest warrant for Binalshibh, but said yesterday it was prepared to stand aside in favour of Washington.
Binalshibh is one of the most important al Qaida members to be taken into custody over the past year, although he was not as high in the organisation as Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in March.
Binalshibh was captured in the sprawling port city of Karachi after a three-hour shootout on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Like Zubaydah’s, Binalshibh was spirited out of the country under a thick cloak of secrecy. Zubaydah was handed over to US authorities shortly after his arrest in the city of Faisalabad and is now being interrogated at a secret location outside the United States.
“Pakistan is obliged under international law to hand over the suspect to the country where they are wanted,” interior minister Haider told reporters in Karachi.
Haider retracted an earlier interior ministry statement that Pakistan was holding a second high-profile al Qaida suspect after a series of raids in Karachi last week in which a total of 12 people were arrested.
“We have completed our investigations,” he said. “The only high profile suspect is Ramzi (Binalshibh) and the rest are his Yemeni guards.
“There is no other high-profile suspect with us.”
Pakistan’s military government said today its recent arrests of al Qaida suspects, including key militant Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, suggested the backbone of the network within the country had been broken.
“We are progressively and smoothly moving ahead with the international war on terrorism,” Maj Gen. Rashid Qureshi told reporters in the southern port city of Karachi where the suspects were seized.
“The recent arrests show that the backbone of the terrorist network seems to have broken,” he added.
Asked whether he thought al Qaida fighters had reorganised in Karachi after fleeing Afghanistan, he said: “It seems that some elements are on the run and they may have selected big cities, including Karachi, as hideouts.”
Qureshi spoke after attending a military exhibition in the city with President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism.
At least one other raid was conducted in Karachi earlier in the week and authorities said 10 al Qaida men captured in the raids were being held in a secret, high-security location.
A mayor was killed and six people injured, including three police officers, when shooting broke out in Pakistan today during a protest against a power cut, police and witnesses said.
Protesters opened fire after police tried to disperse them with tear gas in Pishtakhara, a suburb of Peshawar city in northwestern Pakistan, a witness said.
“In the crossfire, Fayyaz Khan Khalil, the local mayor of the area, was killed,” said the source, who did not want to be identified.
Another witness, Hidayatullah, who was slightly wounded, said Khalil was shot when he attempted to calm down the protesters and to talk with the police.
The police said at least three policemen were wounded.
“It was intense firing,” a witness said, adding that paramilitary forces had been called in to restore order.