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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 15:16 GMT
Pakistan holds al-Qaeda 'kingpin'
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Sheikh Mohammed was captured without a fight in a dawn raid
Pakistan says it has no plans to hand a top al-Qaeda suspect to the United States after his arrest on its territory at the weekend.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected planner of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, was arrested in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation near the capital, Islamabad, and is now in Pakistani police custody.

"We have no plans to hand him over to the Americans," Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told the BBC, suggesting that he might be handed over to Kuwait, his country of origin.

There are just some fish that are so big you can't keep them quiet.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says Sheikh Mohammed is now being questioned jointly by Pakistani and US intelligence officers.

The US considers Sheikh Mohammed such a senior figure within al-Qaeda that they will insist on access to him, intelligence sources say.

To gain that access, the al-Qaeda figure does not necessarily have to be on American soil.

Joint operation

Mr Hayat said that his police wanted first to question the 37-year-old suspect, who was picked up in a dawn raid with two other people, about his activities in Pakistan.

The minister also insisted that the suspect was still in Pakistan, dismissing earlier reports that he had been taken out of the country.

That's fantastic!
President Bush
"He is very much in Pakistan," the minister said, describing the arrest as a "big step forward in eliminating al-Qaeda" from his country.

Sheikh Mohammed's whereabouts are not being disclosed. The identity of an Arab man picked up with him is being worked out.

Washington has described him as one of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden's "most senior and significant lieutenants".

The Pakistani security minister added that his country and the US were "responsible partners in the global war against terror" and shared intelligence.

Intelligence sources say the successful arrest of the suspect - apparently after telephone intercepts - was very much a joint operation.

Pressure off

The suspect's capture in a bloodless operation at a suburban house in the city of Rawalpindi prompted joy in the US Government.

"That's fantastic!" was President George W Bush's reported reaction to the news.

Mr Mohammed has long been on the FBI's most wanted list, and the US had recently increased the reward for his capture to $25m.

KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's pictures on FBI website

On Sunday, his picture on the website showed a red strip over the front marking that he had been located.

BBC Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs says that Bush administration has been under pressure at home from critics who complain it has neglected the hunt for al-Qaeda as it focused on Iraq, and the arrest will take some of that heat off.

Mr Mohammed has been indicted in America for plotting to blow up American commercial airliners in the Philippines in the mid-1990s.

Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, described the Kuwaiti as "the kingpin of al-Qaeda".

Hunt for al-Qaeda

US intelligence agents have been hunting remnants of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network since the US-led military action in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda militants and former Taleban leaders are thought to have fled into Pakistan since US-led forces launched the strikes following the 11 September attacks.

Osama Bin Laden
The whereabouts of Bin Laden remain unknown
Among senior al-Qaeda suspects subsequently arrested are:

  • Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni national, who is alleged to have been one of the main planners of the attacks in Washington and New York and is now in US custody.

  • Abu Zubaydah, thought to have been Bin Laden's field commander and handed over to the US after his capture in March 2002; he is said to have been co-operating with investigators and is thought to have been the source behind many of America's terror warnings since the 11 September attacks.



WATCH AND LISTEN
Frank Gardner reports
"He is the alleged brains behind al-Qaeda"


Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat:
"We have no plans to hand him over to the Americans"



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