Pakistani forces arrested an al-Qaida suspect believed linked to the 2005 London transit bombings while US intelligence agents watched the capture from a nearby car, two Pakistani security officials said on Thursday.
Zabi ul Taifi, a Saudi national, was among seven al-Qaida suspects caught in a raid early on Wednesday near the main northwest city of Peshawar sparked by a tip-off from the US, 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, where militant activity has been on the rise. The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
The FBI and US Justice Department had no immediate comment. A US counterterrorism official told The Associated Press that "Taifi was among the top two dozen al-Qaida leaders." "The fact that Taifi, a senior al-Qaida operations planner, is off the streets is significant," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. "After all, he was deeply involved in internal and external operations plotting."
Pakistan's Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik confirmed seven people were arrested.
However, he did not identify the detainees or detail their alleged crimes, and British security officials said they were not familiar with Taifi.
If confirmed, the arrests would represent a fresh blow to al-Qaida in Pakistan, already under fire from stepped-up US missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistani regions bordering Afghanistan.
They also suggest that Islamabad and Washington are cooperating behind the scenes in targeting al-Qaida 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-Qaida 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 detainees comprised a foreigner and six Pakistanis. He said "high value targets" were among them but did not elaborate.
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.
In London, police and intelligence officials said Taifi was not among suspects known to be linked to the 2005 bombings, but said checks into his background were under way.
Three of the 2005 London suicide bombers were British-born men of Pakistani descent. Prosecutors in a 2007 British terrorism trial said two of the bombers trained at camps in northwest Pakistan.