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Fighting terror

Investigators question top al-Qaida suspect

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2003


LAHORE, Pakistan -- U.S. and Pakistani intelligence experts questioned a suspected high-ranking al-Qaida lieutenant Sunday, hoping to zero in on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

Yassir al-Jaziri, arrested Saturday, was allegedly responsible for communications among al-Qaida leaders. Investigators hope he can tell them more about where bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders may be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan and more about how they operate, Pakistani security officials said.

"Al-Jaziri is definitely an important al-Qaida leader," Interior Secretary Tasneem Noorani told the Associated Press. Al-Jaziri, who was apprehended in the eastern city of Lahore, has told investigators that the last time he conveyed a message to bin Laden was four or five months ago, the Pakistani officials said. He has not admitted having a direct meeting with bin Laden, they added.

He was removed from Lahore for questioning following his arrest by Pakistani authorities, officials said. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told AP that al-Jaziri was being interrogated at an undisclosed location in Pakistan.

Investigators hope to build on information they gathered from other recent arrests. The capture of al-Jaziri was made possible by information gleaned from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ahmed said.

Intelligence officials said Afghan national Gul Zeb -- arrested with al-Jaziri -- also was being questioned but was regarded as less important. Al-Jaziri is among the two dozen most wanted figures in al-Qaida, U.S. officials told AP on condition of anonymity, but he is not on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

Court documents describe al-Jaziri as an Algerian-Moroccan dual national responsible for al-Qaida's business interests.

Intelligence officials said documents, compact discs and a computer were found at the home where al-Jaziri was arrested. Their content was not immediately known. The Pakistani family he had been staying with was being interrogated but not under arrest.

Ahmed did not rule out turning al-Jaziri over to U.S. authorities quickly if a request was made.

Afghanistan to hand over rest of Pakistani prisoners

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan will hand over all remaining Pakistani prisoners who were captured in the U.S.-led war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001, Pakistan's ambassador said Sunday.

Ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand said about 900 prisoners will be transferred to Pakistan, where they will be screened by authorities and likely released.

"This is a welcome decision although it has come late in the day," Mohmand told reporters in a rare news conference at the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul. "We believe this will pave the way for . . . normalizing and improving relations with Afghanistan."

No date was set was set for the transfer, but it could begin next week.

Mohmand said American authorities have interrogated and screened most Pakistanis who were in Afghan custody. None of the prisoners to be transferred was linked to al-Qaida.

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