The authorities need to keep a very close watch on the fanatics in South Africa.
There is more and more evidence of a strong militant (Islamic) presence there.
Caught in al-Qaeda hideout
July 30, 2004
By Zeeshan Haider, Beauregard Tromp and Peter Fabricius
Islamabad and Johannesburg
The two South Africans held in Pakistan by intelligence agents were caught with a top al-Qaeda operative after a fierce gunbattle at the weekend.
The operative, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, is of the world's most wanted men with a $25-million price on his head.
He was in custody in Pakistan today for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Yesterday Pakistan's high commissioner in Pretoria, Akbar Zeb, expressed doubt that the two South African men being held captive on suspicion of terrorism activities were only tourists
R150m price on head of Kenya bombing suspect of world's most wanted men
They had been granted visas on July 10 to visit Pakistan for "tourism" purposes.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad called Zeb in to insist that SA's high commission in Pakistan be given consular access to the men.
Zeb assured Pahad that the high commission in Islamabad would be given consular access to the two men "very soon" - once his government's intelligence authorities had completed their initial investigations.
The two SA suspects, believed to be 20-year-old Islamic-studies student Zubair Ismail of Laudium and Dr Feroz Ganchi, reported to be from Fordsburg, were arrested on Sunday along with Ghailani and 13 others.
They were arrested in a house in the city of Gujrat after a 14-hour gunbattle. Police seized firearms, ammunition, grenades and maps.
But the families of the men in South Africa claim Ismail was in Pakistan to study while Ganchi, a doctor, was there for relief work.
Others said the men were on a hiking expedition.
Zeb dismissed speculation in the SA media that there had been a muddle over the men's identities or that the men arrested had stolen passports from Ganchi and Ismail.
According to Sapa, Pahad met the Ganchi family, at their request, on Wednesday to tell them what the government was doing.
"Ghailani and the others were arrested after the firefight in Gujrat, about 175km southeast of Islamabad, Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.
"It is a big achievement for our security forces," he said.
The US's $25-million (about R156-million) reward for the capture of the Tanzanian national is the same bounty offered for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 19 others on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List.
Ghailani is probably the most senior al-Qaeda operative caught in Pakistan since the arrest in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
"He is wanted for the death of Americans," said an official in Washington on condition of anonymity.
Ghailani, who is in his early 30s and goes by the nicknames "Foopie" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian", was indicted in New York in 1998 for the synchronised blasts that blew up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people.
Washington blamed al-Qaeda for the devastating bombings and carried out a missile attack on Afghan military training camps run by Bin Laden shortly afterwards. Bin Laden escaped unhurt.
Four al-Qaeda supporters were sentenced to life in prison in October 2001 by a Manhattan federal judge for the bombings.
The FBI and the Manhattan US Attorney's office had no immediate comment on Ghailani's arrest.
Hayat said Pakistani security forces had been acting on a tip-off when they raided a suspected militant hideout in Gujrat. One policeman was slightly wounded in the gunbattle, he added.
Hayat said Ghailani, his Uzbek wife and up to eight other foreigners, including two South Africans, were among those arrested.
Those held included four men, three women and five children, Pakistan's Nation newspaper said today.
"They were strangers, and they acted as such, keeping mostly to themselves," the newspaper said, quoting neighbours.
Pakistan had not yet received a request from the US for Ghailani's extradition, Hayat said.
"He has been in Pakistan for some time. We have to establish the exact nature of his activities and scope of his network in Pakistan.
"Only after we have exhausted our inquiries shall we be able to hand him over ... to the US."
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised Pakistan's pursuit of al-Qaeda-linked fighters during a visit to Islamabad this month.
US officials suspect that Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman
al-Zawahri and other al-Qaeda supporters are hiding somewhere in rugged tribal areas along the Afghan border and have pressured Pakistan to pursue foreign militants in the lawless region.
Up to 600 fighters, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks, are believed to be in the tribal belt, many of them sheltered by tribesmen who have also been involved in fierce clashes with Pakistani troops this year.
Pakistani forces launched two major operations this year in the region after President Pervez Musharraf vowed to clear the country of foreign militants accused of attacks in Pakistan, including two attempts on his life in December, and strikes on US-led forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan says it has arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters and handed them over to the US since it joined the US-led war on terror in the wake of September 11. - Reuters and Independent News Service.