Pakistan has arrested a French man reportedly linked to one of the masterminds of the September 11 terrorist attack,a reminder of the countrys vital role in the war on international jihadist groups at a time of deteriorating relations with the US,security officials said Wednesday.
Naamen Meziche was captured in a raid near the border with Iran,officials said,without specifying when this had happened.
Western media reports have described Meziche as an al-Qaeda operative with links to European jihadi groups believed to have been living until now in either Pakistan or Iran. CNN and the Wall Street Journal have reported that Meziche was a friend of Mohammed Atta,who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Centre. However,he does not appear to have any operational role in the attacks.
The officials did not give their names in keeping with the policy of the Pakistani security forces.
The officials said Meziche was a close associate of Younis al-Mauritani,who Pakistani security forces arrested in September last year in a joint operation with the CIA. That arrest also took place in the Baluchistan region,which borders Iran. US officials said Mauritani was believed to have been plotting attacks in Europe. It is unclear where al-Mauritani is now being held.
Baluchistan borders Afghanistan to the northeast and has been a hotbed of militant activity. Pakistani intelligence agents are currently questioning the French national.
The arrest highlights the Pakistani security forces key role in the anti-al-Qaeda campaign,even as the US and Pakistan are going through one of the rockiest stages in their relationship since the 9/11 attacks in the US. The Navy SEAL raid on the Pakistan garrison city of Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden last year raised questions about whether Pakistani security officials at some level knew of the al-Qaeda leaders presence in their country. On the Pakistani side,the raid infuriated the military because it was not told about the attack ahead of time and,once it happened,was powerless to stop it.
Tensions increased even further in November when US forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani border troops,prompting Pakistan to close supply lines to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Those supply lines remain closed to this day as Pakistan demands an apology from the US for the deaths.
The US has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to go after militant groups operating in its territory. During a visit to Kabul,Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US was losing patience with Pakistan over its failure to go after the Haqqani network,considered one of the most dangerous militant groups fighting in Afghanistan.