By Simon Denyer
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A grainy video purporting to show the
arrest of two al Qaeda leaders has done little to deflect
accusations that Pakistan may have staged this month's raid to
give it leeway to abstain in a U.N. vote on an Iraq war.
On Monday, the powerful military Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) held an unprecedented news conference to
show foreign journalists what it said were images of a March 1
raid in Rawalpindi that netted al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheikh
But few of journalists present were convinced the video --
which did not show Mohammed's face nor any sign of a struggle
-- was genuine. Many said it looked like a crude
On Tuesday, a former ISI chief said he believed Mohammed
was actually arrested some time ago in a different city.
"They are trying to cover up," Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul
told Reuters. "I believe he was arrested before, probably in
One intelligence source said Mohammed had been arrested
three days before, from the Tench Batta suburb of Rawalpindi.
Rumors of Mohammed's arrest had circulated in Pakistan for
months, but were consistently denied.
Gul said news of the arrest appeared to have been leaked at
a critical time, just as Pakistan was facing huge U.S. pressure
to support a U.N. Security Council vote authorizing war on
On Monday night, a senior ruling party official told
Reuters the government, under massive domestic pressure to
oppose war on a fellow Muslim state, had decided to abstain in
the vote, news that shocked British and American diplomats in
The ISI earlier said it had called its first news
conference in Pakistan's history to counter criticism in the
Western media that it had not done enough in the war on terror.
Gul said the raid may have been staged -- and news of the
arrest leaked -- for the same reason, against the backdrop of
the U.N. vote.
Gul, who ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, said the raid was
conducted in far too casual a fashion to have been real, with
police failing to properly surround or secure the house in a
middle-class Rawalpindi suburb.
RELATIVES, NEIGHBORS CONTRADICT AUTHORITIES
Relatives of Ahmed Quddus, the son of the house owner, have
maintained he was the only man in the house at the time of the
raid. Neighbors said they heard no sound of gunfire --
contradicting the official account, which maintains that
Mohammed shot one intelligence agent in the foot with an AK-47
Within hours, news of the raid and arrest was leaked to
foreign news agencies, something Gul also found incredible.
"He has to be questioned, before you present him to the
public eye," he said. "You don't present news like that."
In the video, an ISI officer is seen briefing half a dozen
agents about the impending raid -- in English, as opposed to
Pakistan's Urdu mother tongue.
Officials explained this was a reconstruction of the
original Urdu briefing, but said the rest of the video was
But many journalists were unconvinced as a calm cameraman
shone his lights on the raiding party, and followed agents as
they casually broke into the compound and the house, and walked
up the stairs.
There was no sign of a struggle -- or of any urgency. The
cameramen then focused on the back and neck of the man
officials said was Mohammed, before the man was swiftly hooded.
The video has not been released to the media for broadcast.
Mohammed is identified by the United States as the
mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and
Washington. The ISI says the financier of the attacks, Saudi
national Ahmed al-Hawsawi, was also arrested in the same raid.
But one Pakistani source said al-Hawsawi had been picked up
at least one month before the announcement of his arrest, and
that intelligence agents had voiced delight at the time.
On Tuesday, Quddus was remanded in judicial custody for 14
days, and lawyers said his trial could start this month on
charges of possessing weapons, resisting arrest and terrorism.
The intelligence source said Quddus' family was suspected
of having sent Mohammed food, and Mohammed was said to have
visited the house four or five times.
Quddus is the son of an official in the Jamaat-e-Islami
party, a key member of a religious alliance that opposes the
military-backed government and has organized big street
protests against war on Iraq.
Authorities say at least two other al Qaeda suspects have
been arrested in houses linked to Jamaat-e-Islami members, but
Gul said the party could be the victim of an official campaign
to blacken their name.
"Jamaat has never had any contacts with the Arabs (al
Qaeda)," said Gul. "They are at loggerheads with U.S.
policy...and at this stage it would be an advantage to have
them labeled as terrorists."
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