September 20, 2002
2000 IST

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Did Al Jazeera Set Up Ramzi bin Alshibh?

Shahid Iqbal in Karachi

In the first week of September, an Arab journalist travelled from London to Karachi to meet top Al-Qaeda operatives. A few days later, on the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist strikes in the US, security and intelligence agencies raided an apartment complex in a posh area of Karachi.

After a three-hour gun battle, five Al Qaeda activists were captured and two killed. Seven members of law-enforcement agencies also received injuries. Among those arrested was Ramzi bin Alshibh, who was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list.

Yosri Fouda, who works for the London bureau of Al Jazeera TV, claimed that Al Qaeda had chosen him to deliver a message to the world on the first anniversary of 9/11 attacks and brought him to Karachi from London.

Al Jazeera has aired many exclusive interviews with Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

The FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency, however, claimed that the raid followed the interception of satellite telephone conversations between Al Qaeda leaders.

Police said the suspects hurled two grenades on the police party, which in turn lobbed tear-gas shells into the three-story complex to force the occupants out.

Witnesses said a family comprising a man, his wife and a child were occupants of a third-floor apartment in the building. "When the apartment was raided, the police made repeated calls asking the suspects to surrender and release the hostages. The suspects allowed a woman and her child to go out," said Saleem Khan, a shopkeeper.

Later it was disclosed that the woman and her child were not hostages, but colleagues of the Al-Qaeda men. Officials are tight-lipped over the woman's whereabouts.

Was it a trap for the Al-Qaeda, which trusted the Arab journalist and invited him to visit Karachi?

Was it the FBI that traced the telephone conversations or Fouda who led the intelligence agencies to Ramzi's hideout?

The FBI took Ramzi and his colleagues into custody and deported them to the US within 48 hours. They also took most of the credit for the arrests.

Police officials do not rule out the FBI and the CIA tracking Fouda from London to Karachi.

These days movement of Arab nationals into Pakistan from Europe and the US is under strict observation. After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan's main airports have installed a facility to provide all information regarding arrival and departure of passengers to the FBI.

After the collapse of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda men took shelter in Pakistan. They made some parts of country's Northern province and this southern port city their base.

Pakistan has so far arrested more than 600 Arabs from different parts of the country and several of them have been handed over to US authorities.

Was it a coincidence that the Al Qaeda hideout in Karachi was busted on the first anniversary of 9/11 attacks?

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who was in New York in connection with the 9/11 anniversary, described Ramzi's arrest as "a proof that Pakistan is doing whatever is possible to curb terrorism."

US President George Bush said Ramzi had wanted to be the 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks. He thanked "the Pakistani government for cooperating with the US personnel to bring this person to justice."

Fouda had met Ramzi bin Alshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a Kuwaiti national on the FBI's most-wanted list with $ 25 million on his head.

Khalid was not among those arrested, and is believed to be on the run.

"His arrest might give us details of Al-Qaeda's network and that could be the beginning of the end of Al Qaeda in Pakistan," said a high-level interior ministry official.

"Al-Qaeda is the bridge between Islamabad and Washington. If Pakistan is cleaned of Al Qaeda elements, Pakistan will lose its pre-eminent position in the fight against terrorism," said Jan Abbas, a professor of International relations at a Karachi college.

Would Islamabad be willing to let that happen?

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