Pakistan deports bombing suspect

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The Independent Online
AMERICAN diplomats retreated behind the razor wire of their fortified compound in Islamabad yesterday as the State Department announced an airlift of US families from Pakistan.

The measures were taken after the extradition to Kenya of a suspect in the 7 August bomb blasts in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed 257 people and injured 5,500.

A US spokesman said a chartered aircraft would today fly out 50 non- essential embassy staff and dependants, "based on very serious indications of a threat to US facilities and US citizens", leaving behind a skeleton staff of 70 to operate limited services from the embassy and consulates in three other cities. The US cultural centre in Islamabad closed, with services operating behind the fortified compound of the embassy.

In a statement a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tariq Altaf, said a man who arrived at Karachi airport from Nairobi on the day of the bombings attracted the attention of immigration officials because he did not match the photograph on his Yemeni passport. Mr Altaf said he was interrogated by Pakistani officials who handed him over to Kenyan authorities. US FBI agents and Kenya's Criminal Investigations Division confirmed yesterday they were questioning the suspect, identified as Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. The FBI and CID said he had two aliases: Abdul Bast Awadh and Mohammad Sadiq Howaida.

US diplomats would not say if there was a specific threat to its installations in Pakistan but there was speculation that the move was in preparation for military action against Osama bin Laden, a Saudi living in Afghanistan whom US officials have identified as a possible suspect in the bombings. Mr Bin Laden has been vocal in his hatred of what he sees as US imperialism and pledged to drive US troops out of bases in places like Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday a spokesman for Afghanistan's Taliban militia said Mr Bin Laden, who has pledged not to engage in such activities while living under Taliban protection, had nothing to do with the bombings.

Last night the FBI and Kenyan police said they had made no breakthroughs in questioning Mr Odeh.

In a joint statement they said: "Mr Saddiq Odeh has not admitted any responsibility in the bombings in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam, nor has he implicated anyone else in those events."

The Pakistani national newspaper The News said Mr Odeh, 34, is a Palestinian engineer. Other reports said he is married to a Kenyan and is familiar with Nairobi.

Pakistani tried to conceal US involvement in Mr Odeh's extradition, perhaps because of the case of Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani convicted of killing two CIA employees in Virginia. When he was arrested in Pakistan in 1997 in an FBI-Pakistani operation, Pakistanis accused their government of grovelling before US power.

The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is to visit Nairobi and Dar es Salaam today in a show of support for the victims of the bombings and of resolve in the face of threats to Americans.