|Leak Allowed al-Qaida Suspects to Escape
Tue Aug 10, 8:23 AM ET
By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The disclosure to reporters of the arrest of an al-Qaida computer expert allowed several wanted suspects from Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s terror network to escape, government and security officials said Tuesday.
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old Pakistani computer engineer, was nabbed in a July 13 raid in the eastern city of Lahore. He then led Pakistani authorities to a key al-Qaida figure and cooperated secretly by sending e-mails to terrorists so investigators could trace their locations.
His arrest was first reported in American newspapers on Aug. 2 after it was disclosed to reporters by U.S. officials in Washington. Later, the Pakistan government also confirmed his capture but gave no other details.
Two senior Pakistani officials said the reports in "Western media" enabled other al-Qaida suspects to get away.
"Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaida suspects ran away," one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) acknowledged Sunday that Khan's name had been disclosed to reporters in Washington "on background," meaning that it could be published, but the information could not be attributed by name to the official who had revealed it.
The Pakistani officials said that after Khan's arrest, other al-Qaida suspects abruptly changed their hide-outs and moved to unknown places.
The first official described the publication of the news of Khan's arrest as "very disturbing."
"We have checked. No Pakistani official made this intelligence leak," he said.
Without naming any country, he said it was the responsibility of "coalition partners" to examine how a foreign journalist was able to have an access to the "classified information" about Khan's arrest.
The official refused to comment whether any U.S. official was responsible for the leak.
On Monday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., asked the White House to explain why the name of Khan was revealed.
The disclosure on Aug. 1 came as the Bush administration was defending its decision to warn about possible attacks against U.S. financial buildings in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan cautioned Monday that information may be more limited about future raids against al-Qaida suspects.
Khan led authorities to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — a Tanzanian with a $25 million American bounty on his head for his suspected involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa — and the capture of about 20 other al-Qaida suspects. The arrests also prompted a series of raids in Britain and uncovered past al-Qaida surveillance in the United States.
Pakistani officials over the weekend have said they are searching for two North Africans: Abu Farj, a Libyan, and Hamza, an Egyptian, who are believed to have spent some time in Pakistan with Ghailani.
A Pakistani security official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that despite failing to capture some al-Qaida suspects after Khan's arrest, the country's security agencies were chasing them and would eventually get them.
The official would not reveal the names or nationalities of the fugitives who evaded arrest.
Ghailani and Khan are still in the custody of Pakistan — a key ally of the United States in its war on terrorism.
Officials say Ghailani and Khan's computer contained photographs of potential targets in the United States and Britain, including London's Heathrow Airport and underpasses beneath London buildings.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in a newspaper interview that his country had been "90 percent" successful in nabbing suspects in a number of high-profile attacks.
"We have achieved an unprecedented 90 percent success to unearth elements involved in terrorist attacks against myself, prime minister-in-waiting Shaukat Aziz and in other high-profile cases," Musharraf was quoted as saying by The News, a Pakistani English-language daily, Musharraf.
Pakistan has seen a string of bombings and suicide attacks over the past year, including two suicide bombings by Islamic militants that the president narrowly escaped in December, and another last month targeting Aziz, the current finance minister and prime minister designate. Aziz was unhurt but seven others were killed in that attack.