Pakistan turns over 'Cole' bombing suspect©Washington Post
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KARACHI, Pakistan -- A Yemeni microbiology student wanted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole was secretly handed over to U.S. authorities by Pakistan's intelligence agency early Friday, according to a Washington Post report that cited Pakistani government sources.
According to the Post, Pakistani officials said the student, Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, 27, is an active member of the al-Qaida terrorist organization, which is run by Osama bin Laden, the alleged architect of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Mohammed's arrest by Pakistani intelligence officers andhandover to U.S. authorities -- which bypassed the usual extradition and deportation procedures -- was the result of a broad investigation by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials into the activities of Arab students who are suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, the Post reported. In recent weeks, U.S. and Pakistani officials have engaged in unprecedented collaboration to identify potential al-Qaida members operating in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, the country's largest city and its commercial capital.
Mohammed is the first person captured outside Yemen for the October 2000 bombing of the Cole as it refueled in the port of Aden. Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 others aboard the destroyer were injured when suicide bombers pulled alongside in a skiff and detonated their explosives.
Yemeni officials have arrested eight people in connection with the bombing, although they have not yet been put on trial.
The Post quoted one Pakistani official as calling Mohammed a solid al-Qaida asset. Mohammed's arrest could provide one of the most direct connections between bin Laden and the Cole bombing. U.S. officials have linked bin Laden to the attack but have not announced a definitive relationship.
Pakistani intelligence officials, according to the Post, said their U.S. counterparts provided them with few details about Mohammed's suspected involvement in the Cole bombing.
U.S. officials in Pakistan would not comment on the matter Saturday, and in Washington, a senior FBI official declined to comment.
Mohammed arrived in Pakistan in 1993 from Taiz, Yemen, to study microbiology at the University of Karachi, said Iftikhar Maqvi, the university's foreign student adviser. But in 1996, he was asked to leave after failing to qualify for the honors program in which he had enrolled, Maqvi said.
Later that year, Mohammed was arrested by Pakistani authorities in connection with the November 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, according to the Post report. He was released without being charged. Ayman Zawahiri, the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization and a close associate of bin Laden, was convicted in absentia in Pakistan for involvement in the bombing.
Pakistani officials regarded the embassy bombing, which killed 15 people and occurred five days after an explosion at a Saudi communications center, as part of a plot by an unidentified group to destabilize moderate Muslim countries. Pakistani officials now believe the bombing was one of the first terrorist acts carried out by al-Qaida, which was just beginning to jell as a terrorist network.
Pakistani officials said they do not know what Mohammed did between 1996 and 1999, when he re-enrolled at the university.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Pakistani intelligence agents started checking on university students of Arab descent. When Mohammed's teachers were asked about his whereabouts, they said he had not been seen on campus since late August. Becoming suspicious, agents waited outside his apartment in Karachi and nabbed him when he returned this week.
Mohammed was handed over to U.S. authorities under highly secretive circumstances. According to the Post, which cited Pakistani sources and a security official at Karachi International Airport, Mohammed was taken to a little-used section of the airfield in a rented white Toyota sedan by masked agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Several U.S. officials took custody of Mohammed and left on a Gulfstream V jet, the Post said. Pakistani officials said there were no formal deportation or extradition proceedings. The plane's destination was not known.
Pakistani officials said they are investigating other Arab students at the University of Karachi for al-Qaida connections. The inquiry, which has been an open secret on the campus, has resulted in more than 100 Arab students leaving the university and returning home, a university official said.
The Post, citing government sources, reported that two other Yemeni students at the university had been detained because of suspected al-Qaida links. The Post's sources said the two also were connected to Mohammed.
Intelligence officials believe Pakistan has served as a key transit country for Afghan-based extremists as well as a base of operations for them because it has a communications, transportation and financial infrastructure that Afghanistan lacks. Pakistan's intelligence agency officials also have had long-standing links with the Taliban, which has harbored bin Laden and many of his operatives since 1996.
In recent years, several terrorists wanted by the United States have been apprehended in Pakistan. Ramzi Yousef, the convicted ringleader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was arrested at a Pakistani boarding house financed by bin Laden. Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, a Jordanian who was recently convicted in New York for the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, was detained when he arrived in Karachi on the day of the bombings. And Mir Amal Kansi, who was convicted of the 1993 shooting outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., was picked up in Pakistan.
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