A son-in-law of al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahri was the mastermind of a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners unearthed in Britain this month, a Pakistani newspaper said on Saturday.
British police said on August 10 they had foiled a major plot to carry out suicide bombings on aircraft bound for the United States and are questioning 23 suspects.
Pakistan said last week it had arrested seven people, including two British Muslims of Pakistani descent, in connection with the plot.
One of the arrested Britons was identified as Rashid Rauf and Pakistan said he was an al-Qaida operative with links in Afghanistan and was central to the plot.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, citing what it described as credible sources, said a son-in-law of the fugitive al-Zawahri was the mastermind and was being hunted.
The newspaper did not identify the suspected mastermind but said al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, was known to have several sons-in-law.
Hunt for the mastermind
Pakistani officials have said they believed the mastermind was an al-Qaida member based in Afghanistan.
But top officials, including Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, said they could not confirm the mastermind was al-Zawahri’s son-in-law.
Pakistan was exchanging information with the U.S. military in Afghanistan on the hunt for the mastermind, Pakistani security and government officials said.
Al-Zawahri is believed to be hiding out along the Afghan-Pakistani border, in the area of the eastern Afghan province of Kunar and the Bajaur region in Pakistan.
A missile from a CIA drone aircraft hit a meeting of al-Qaida leaders in Bajaur in January. U.S. intelligence officials believed al-Zawahri might have been attending the gathering.
The airliner bomb mastermind was believed to have met one or more of the plotters in Bajaur or across the border in Kunar, Dawn said. It did not say when the meeting was believed to have taken place.
The mastermind had made some initial payments to the plotters, Dawn said, citing its unidentified sources.
Top al-Qaida commander arrested?
Separately, the U.S. network ABC reported on Friday that Pakistani officials had arrested a top al-Qaida commander, Matiur Rehman, in the course of their investigation into the London bomb plot.
Pakistani security officials have denied that Rehman, one of the country’s most-wanted militants, had been arrested.