| An officer searches a house after the anti-terror arrests in Blackburn, northern England. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Aug. 4 (Reuters): Pakistani officials today withheld the identity of a top al Qaida suspect caught several days ago so the US and Britain can follow through on an international crackdown against the terror group.
“The crackdown is not just restricted to Pakistan, but is on from London to the US,” information minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said. The United States put well-known financial institutions on high alert against an attack on the basis of information garnered from the arrests in Pakistan.
In Britain, British police were questioning 12 men today, arrested in major anti-terror raids across the country. Over a dozen terror suspects have been caught in Pakistan over the past couple of weeks according to officials, and Ahmed said information from them had helped western allies make headway in the war on terror.
Interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said yesterday the al Qaida suspect has a multi-million dollar bounty on his head, but declined to name him for fear of hampering investigations.
Ahmed said the suspect was of African origin, like Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian caught more than a week ago who carried a $5 million bounty on his head for his part in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa.
Intelligence sources said yesterday one of the men picked up was from Sierra Leone, while other media reports say two South Africans were being held.
There is a clear focus on Africans, and a senior interior ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said about 150 to 200 of them were detained for interrogation.
The spate of arrests began with the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, alias Abu Talha, a Pakistani computer engineer, in the eastern city of Lahore last month.
Information extracted from Khan, who acted as the e-mail postman for coded messages passed between al Qaida members, led to the capture of Ghailani in Gujarat, Punjab province.
In Britain, few details have emerged about yesterday’s operation but newspapers speculated that police had targeted suspected al Qaida cells.
Security services say foreign al Qaida operatives are active in the UK and that there is also a threat from Britons sympathetic to the ideology of Osama bin Laden.
Police said only that the men, in their 20s and 30s, were suspected of “being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” and were arrested as part of a pre-planned, intelligence-led operation.
“Nothing hazardous” such as chemicals or bomb-making equipment had been found, a police source said, adding all the suspects were believed to be Asian. A 13th man arrested in the raid was freed without charge.
Police declined to say whether there was a link between intelligence from Pakistan and the UK raids, which took place in northwest London and in the southern English counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire as well as the northwestern area of Lancashire.