x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Key Al Qaeda agent Younis Al Mauritani captured in Pakistan

US assisted with operation in Quetta, with relations with Pakistan on the mend as terrorist group suffers 'another fatal blow'.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan said yesterday its intelligence service captured a "senior Al Qaeda leader", Younis Al Mauritani, who it said was responsible for conducting international operations and had been ordered by Osama bin Laden to attack American, European and Australian economic interests.

Pakistan's military, describing the capture as "another fatal blow" to the militant group, said in a statement that two other senior Al Qaeda operatives were also detained.

It named the other two detainees as Abdul Ghaffar Al Shami and Messara Al Shami.

The statement said the arrests took place in Quetta, but did not say when.

The fact that all three men were captured alive means they could give valuable information to interrogators.

It is also a sign that ties between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency were improving after a torrid few months because of tensions sparked by the operation that killed bin Laden, and US suspicions that the agency - which has historic ties to militants - was playing a "double game".

The bin Laden operation severely strained ties between Washington and Islamabad.

Pakistan was kept in the dark, and the raid raised angry questions in Washington on whether Pakistan's intelligence agencies knew bin Laden was living there.

But the statement said the capture of Al Mauritani was a joint operation, raising the possibility that ties had improved.

"This operation was planned and conducted with technical assistance of United State intelligence agencies with whom Inter-Services Intelligence agency has a strong, historic intelligence relationship," said the military statement.

"Both Pakistan and United States intelligence agencies continue to work closely together to enhance security of their respective nations."

The statement said Mr Al Mauritani was mainly responsible for Al Qaeda's international operations and was tasked by bin Laden with focusing on hitting targets of economic importance in America, Europe and Australia.

It said he was planning to target US economic interests including gas and oil pipelines, power generating dams and oil tankers by using explosive-laden speed boats in international waters.

US officials have said Al Qaeda's deputy chief, the Libyan national Atiyah abd Al Rahman, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border on August 22. But Pakistan officials have not confirmed his death.

* Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press