Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced the arrest of wanted militant Qari Saifullah Akhtar yesterday: "We confirm that we have arrested [Qari] Saifullah Akhtar. He was on our wanted list for a very long time before, but he was not available. We did not know his location. And now from UAE, we got the information, and they delivered him to us. And now he is in our custody."
Pakistani security officials believe Akhtar is as important terrorist figure with links to Al-Qaeda. His arrest is part of a series of apparent breakthroughs in recent weeks in efforts to infiltrate Islamic terror networks.
"We are trying our best. We have arrested the most valuable people. We never go to the small arrests or the people who are expediters. We have gone for the planners. And the best planners, we have arrested," Ahmed said. "And I think that these arrests will make a big change in their activity. They will not be in a position to [attack] some big target. Or [if there is] something [that] they want to do, it's not [going to be] easy to do for them."
Akhtar is known to have been involved with Pakistani intelligence agencies through much of the 1990s before his group was outlawed and he left the country. His capture is being interpreted by many in the United States as a sign that the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is joining the war on terrorism with renewed vigor.
Pakistani security agencies also recently arrested Fazalur Rehman Khalil, accused of leading another outlawed group with links to Al-Qaeda, Harakatul Mujahedin.
These arrests are the latest in a month-long crackdown in which more than 20 terrorist suspects have been captured in Pakistan. Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said he hopes to make further inroads into terrorist networks: "In the weeks and months to come, we hope to further intensify our efforts in hitting at those nerve centers and at those crucial and sensitive areas, where by [our] hitting hard, Al-Qaeda will certainly be hurt the most."
Much of the intensified activity can be traced to computer expert Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in Pakistan in July. Khan reportedly agreed to cooperate with Pakistan intelligence, and this cooperation evidently led to many of the subsequent arrests.
According to leaks reported in "The New York Times" and other news outlets, Khan's information was central to the U.S. decision in early August to elevate the nationwide terrorism-alert warning.
Frances Townsend, U.S. President George W. Bush's homeland-security adviser, said she believes Al-Qaeda's plans to attack the United States have been hurt by the recent arrests. She said the question now is whether all -- or only part -- of Al-Qaeda's plans for attacks have been disrupted.
But there have been charges in Pakistan and Britain that the disclosure in the United States of Khan's identity has damaged ongoing anti-terrorism investigations and ruined traps set by Pakistan for other militants.
(with news agency reports)