Pakistani agents killed an al-Qaida suspect in a shootout and are investigating whether another man arrested in the same raid is a Syrian believed to be a key figure in Osama bin Laden’s terror network in Europe, the government and intelligence officials said Thursday.
Intelligence officials said a third suspect from a Pakistani militant group was also captured in the raid this week in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province.
“I can only confirm that there was an encounter, and our security forces arrested one suspected al-Qaida terrorist while another terrorist was killed,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press. He did not identify the suspects.
A senior government official said authorities were investigating whether one of the suspects was Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, alleged to have had a key role in the March 11, 2004, Madrid bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500. That official also declined to be named, saying he was not allowed to comment publicly on the investigation.
One of the intelligence officials, based in Quetta, said the suspect who died in the firing was a Saudi named Shaikh Ali Mohammed al-Salim. He said al-Salim had been living with Nasar.
He said the third suspect was from Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani Islamic militant group allegedly linked to al-Qaida.
The U.S. Embassy said they could not immediately confirm the arrests.
$5 million reward
Last year, the U.S. government announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri.
The U.S. Justice Department’s Rewards for Justice Web site describes Nasar as an al-Qaida member and former trainer at terrorist camps in Afghanistan who instructed extremists in using poisons and chemicals. It also says he is likely to be in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Nasar, 47, was born in Syria and also has Spanish nationality. His name has also been linked to the July 7 bombings in London that left 56 people dead, including the four bombers.
London’s Metropolitan Police and the Home Office were unable to offer any comment immediately on British interest in Nasar.
In September 2003, he was among 35 people named in an indictment handed down by a Spanish magistrate for terrorist activities connected to al-Qaida, and was alleged to have close ties with the suspected leader of the terror group’s cell in Spain, a Syrian-born Spaniard named Imad Yarkas.
Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, says it has arrested more than 700 al-Qaida suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America, and has handed most of the suspects to the United States.
The last reported arrest of a suspected key al-Qaida figure in Pakistan was in May, when Abu Farraj al-Libbi, the alleged mastermind of assassination attempts against Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was nabbed after a shootout in a northwestern town. He was later handed over to the United States.