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Pakistan: Bush Praises Capture Of Al-Qaeda Figure

New and old photos of al-Libbi Washington, 4 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan today announced the arrest of Al-Qaeda's third-ranking leader, Abu Farraj al-Libbi. He's said to be responsible for attempts to kill Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan is calling al-Libbi's arrest significant, as is U.S. President George W. Bush.

In Washington, Bush expressed pleasure today upon learning that al-Libbi had been captured.

"I applaud the Pakistani government for their strong cooperation in the war on terror," he was quoted by news agencies as saying. "I applaud the Pakistani government and President Musharraf for acting on solid intelligence to bring this man to justice. The fight continues. We'll stay on the offensive until Al-Qaeda is defeated."

Bush called al-Libbi "a major facilitator and a chief planner" for Al-Qaeda. Indeed, the Libyan native was believed to be the No. 3 strategist in Al-Qaeda, behind bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who was captured two years ago.

Pakistani officials say al-Libbi succeeded Muhammad as Al-Qaeda's operations chief in Pakistan after Muhammad was arrested. Al-Libbi also is thought to have been a key planner in attacks in the United States and around the world.

Details of al-Libbi's capture were not immediately available. But he was reportedly arrested with a second person on 2 May after an exchange of fire in a religiously conservative area of northwestern Pakistan. The confrontation reportedly came after locals reported seeing foreigners in the area.

Musharraf has accused al-Libbi of being responsible for both attempts on his life. Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, speaking today in Islamabad, Pakistan, said the prisoner was responsible for at least one of those attempts. "He [al-Libbi] is the person who masterminded the assassination attempt on the life of the President [Musharraf] on 25 December, and he was a close associate of Amjad Farooqi," Sherpao was quoted as saying.

Farooqi was a Pakistani militant believed to have Al-Qaeda ties who was killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces in September. He had been charged in the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl three years ago.

Pakistan had offered a $10 million reward for al-Libbi's capture, indicating his importance in what Bush and Musharraf call the "war on terrorism." Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the capture of such a high-ranking Al-Qaeda official means investigators are on what he called "the right track" to capture bin Laden himself.

Sherpao said it is too early to say whether al-Libbi will be extradited to the United States. He said the prisoner also must face charges in Pakistan.