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Al-Qaida suspect handed to U.S., Pakistanis say

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Tanzanian al-Qaida operative who was captured in Pakistan last year and is on the FBI list of most-wanted terrorists was handed over to U.S. officials and flown out of the country months ago, Pakistani security officials said Tuesday.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in east Africa that killed more than 200 people. He was arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in July after a shootout in the eastern city of Gujrat.

Since then, officials have refused to divulge the whereabouts of Ghailani, who had a $5 million bounty on his head. But on Tuesday, a senior security official confirmed on condition of anonymity that the suspect had left Pakistan months ago.

“He (Ghailani) was turned over to our American friends months ago,” the security official told The Associated Press.

Exact destination not disclosed
However, the official would not say whether Ghailani had been shifted to the U.S. high security detention facility for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“We have no idea, and as a matter of fact we don’t ask such questions,” he said.

Another security official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ghailani was handed over to the U.S. officials because he had committed a “heinous crime against them” in Africa.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said he had no information about Ghailani’s whereabouts.

Ghailani, believed to be aged between 30 and 34, is one of the FBI’s 22 most wanted terror suspects. He has been indicted in the Southern District of New York for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Twelve Americans were among the more than 200 people killed.

At the time of his arrest, about 15 other people, including women and children, were also captured. It’s unclear what has happened to them.

After Ghailani’s capture, intelligence officials said that they found “valuable information,” including plans for attacks against the United States and Britain, on a computer recovered from a house where Ghailani had been staying.

Officials said that Ghailani was captured on a tip given to Pakistani officials by Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani and alleged al-Qaida computer expert, who was arrested about two weeks before him in the eastern city of Lahore.

600 arrests reported
Pakistan, which became a key ally of the United States in its war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has so far arrested more than 600 al-Qaida suspects from different parts of the country.

They include al-Qaida No. 3 leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was arrested in March 2003 during a raid in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital, Islamabad. Almost all the foreign suspects, including Mohammed, were later handed over to U.S. officials.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri remain at large. They are still suspected to be hiding in the rugged border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.