Pakistan published photographs Wednesday of six men, including a senior al-Qaida operative, for whom it said it had offered large rewards in connection with two attempts to assassinate the nation’s president.
The identities of the men highlighted the chilling nexus between several homegrown Pakistani militant groups and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network. The government says al-Qaida had a hand in two assassination attempts in December against the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as well as an attempt in July against Prime Minister-designate Shaukat Aziz.
Musharraf identified the main suspect as Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a Libyan national. The government had never published a photo of him until Wednesday.
Al-Libbi appears in the photo as a dapper looking man with a short beard. He is wearing a Western suit and tie in the photograph, above a reward offer of 20 million rupees, or $344,800.
Other suspects’ roles unclear
The other suspects, all identified as Pakistan’s “Most Wanted Terrorists,” are Mati-ur Rehman, Amjad Hussain, Qari Ehsan, Omar Aqdas and Mansoor, whose alias is Chota Ibrahim. All are Pakistanis and are known to be linked with the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
It was not clear exactly what the five other men were wanted for or what role, if any, they had in the assassination attempts.
The advertisements promised anonymity for any informers and gave phone numbers and e-mail addresses to contact authorities. Some posters were printed in English and some in Urdu, Pakistan’s other official language.
Hussain, who is best known as Amjad Hussain Farooqi, is also wanted for his part in the 2002 kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. In some accounts, Hussain recruited three Yemenis for the task and supervised it. In others, he carried out the butchery himself.
Hussain is also believed to be linked to al-Qaida’s former No. 3 figure, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003, and to two Pakistani militant groups, Lashkar-e-Jangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The reward for Hussain is identical to that for Al-Libbi.
“Al-Libbi and Farooqi were the masterminds of the attacks against Musharraf,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.
Musharraf was not hurt in either attack, but 17 people died in the second attempt on his life, when terrorists tried to blow up his motorcade on a road near the capital, Islamabad.
Support for U.S. targeted
Musharraf has earned the ire of extremists because of his support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Pakistan has arrested more than 550 al-Qaida suspects, most of whom it has turned over to the United States. More than two dozen suspects have been arrested in Pakistan in recent weeks, including a computer expert known as Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian al-Qaida member wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
The arrests and information gleaned from the men led authorities in Britain and the United Arab Emirates to more suspects, and they were a key factor in the decision by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to issue a terrorism alert Aug. 1 in New York, New Jersey and Washington.
Also Wednesday, a cleric who is a member of the opposition MMA political coalition said Qari Noor Mohammed, a militant who was arrested by intelligence agents last week, died in custody. He allegedly playing a role in last month’s assassination attempt against Aziz.
Mohammed was captured in Faisalabad, an industrial city in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province. Wednesday, his body was found at a hospital in the city, said Sardar Mohammed Zafar, a senior cleric in the area.
Zafar said he received an anonymous tip from someone who told him to pick up Mohammed’s body from Allied Hospital. He charged that the body had signs of torture.
There was no immediate comment from the government, but a police official, Sheikh Amir, said the man died of a heart attack and denied the torture allegations.