NBC News and news services
updated 9/5/2011 9:05:08 AM ET 2011-09-05T13:05:08

Pakistan's spy agency arrested three senior members of al-Qaida in an operation assisted by American intelligence, the army said Monday.

An army statement identified the most senior detainee as Younis al-Mauritani, who it said had been tasked by Osama bin Laden with targeting Western economic interests worldwide.

Potential targets included gas and oil pipelines, power-generating dams, and oil tankers through the use of explosive-laden speed boats in international waters, NBC News’ Amna Nawaz reported from Pakistan.

A Pakistani military spokesman called al-Mauritani's arrest "critical" and that it had dealt "another fatal blow" to al-Qaida, Nawaz reported.

The military statement said the arrests took place in the southwestern city of Quetta, but did not say when.

Strained relations
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has cooperated with the CIA over the last 10 years to arrest scores of al-Qaida suspects, but ties between the two agencies have suffered greatly in recent months over CIA drone strikes inside Pakistani territory and the unilateral American raid that killed bin Laden.

The unusual announcement of the arrest of the three appears to signal that the relationship could be warming.

"This operation was planned and conducted with technical assistance of United State Intelligence Agencies with whom Inter-Services Intelligence has a strong, historic intelligence relationship. Both Pakistan and United States Intelligence agencies continue to work closely together to enhance security of their respective nations," the statement said.

Many top al-Qaida commanders are believed to live in Pakistan, and getting Islamabad's cooperation in cracking down on the network has been a top American goal since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. officials have recently claimed al-Qaida's capabilities have been seriously weakened due to drone strikes and arrests in recent years.

U.S. officials have said al-Qaida's deputy chief, Libyan national Atiyah abd al-Rahman, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border on Aug. 22. But Pakistan officials have not confirmed his death.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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