ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police arrested an al-Qaeda suspect believed linked to the 2005 London transit bombings as U.S. intelligence agents watched the capture from a nearby car, two Pakistani security officials said Thursday.
Zabi ul Taifi, a Saudi national, was among seven al-Qaeda suspects caught in a raid near the main northwest city of Peshawar sparked by a tip-off from the U.S., the officials told The Associated Press.
They said an unmanned spy plane and three helicopters hovered over the area during the raid on a house on the outskirts of the city, which has long been a hub of militant activity. The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik confirmed seven people had been arrested. He did not identify the detainees or detail their alleged crimes.
The arrests appear to be a fresh blow to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, already under fire from stepped-up U.S. missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistani regions bordering Afghanistan.
They also suggested that Islamabad and Washington are cooperating behind the scenes in targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants holed up close to the Afghan border, despite tensions over the missile strikes, which Pakistan has routinely protested.
The Afghan border is home to scores of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants and is believed to be a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other extremist leaders.
Malik, the interior ministry chief, said the arrests included a foreigner and six Pakistanis. He said “high value targets” were among them but did not elaborate. Earlier, another unnamed official said the detainees arrested alongside Zabi ul Taifi were three Arabs and three Afghans. The discrepancy was not immediately reconcilable.
The security officials did not specify what role Taifi is alleged to have played in the 2005 attacks in London, which killed 52 people.
“We have reasons to believe that we got the right man who had played a role in the 2005 attacks in London,” said one official, who said he received the information from security agents in Peshawar.
They said the “well planned” raid stemmed from a tip from American intelligence officials, who witnessed the raid in the Bara Qadeem area of Peshawar but did not participate in it.
“Mainly it was our own work, but we worked closely with our American counterparts,” one of the officials said.
The U.S. Embassy spokesman declined comment, and British officials were not immediately reachable.
The suspects were in Pakistani custody and being questioned Thursday, the officials said.
Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf quietly handed over hundreds of terror suspects to the United States in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks. It was unclear what Pakistani officials planned to do with the men.
Britain is home to many people of Pakistani descent and has long been concerned about the spread of terrorism to its shores.
On a recent trip here, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said three-fourths of the most serious terror plots investigated by British authorities had links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Three of the 2005 London suicide bombers were British-born men of Pakistani descent, one of whom is alleged to have trained in a camp in northwest Pakistan in 2003. Another British suspect on trial over the attacks is also alleged to have attended the camp.
In November, Pakistani intelligence officials said a U.S. missile strike killed Rashid Rauf, a British militant linked to a jetliner bomb plot, but there has been no independent confirmation of his death by the U.S. or Britain.