British al-Qa'ida suspect held on Pakistan border

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The Independent Online

Pakistani officials working alongside Western security services to track down members of al-Qa'ida confirmed last night they were holding a Briton suspected of having links with the terror network.

The man, named as James Alexander McLintock, was detained 11 days ago crossing a "no-entry" border into Pakistan's remote North-West Frontier province from Afghanistan.

Intelligence officers have already identified the area in Afghanistan, north of Jalalabad, as a former al-Qa'ida stronghold used by Osama bin Laden's organisation as a terrorist training site.

The arrest of Mr McLintock, a white man believed to be of Scottish origin, raised new fears about widespread recruitment of Britons along with Americans, Australians and other Europeans to al-Qa'ida.

More than 200 suspected al-Qa'ida members are being held on the Pakistani border after fleeing the American onslaught on the Tora Bora cave complex two weeks ago.

The Briton was said to have given a Muslim name, Yaqoob, to border guards and spoken in Arabic when he was arrested. He was holding a British passport confirmed by the Pakistani authorities as authentic.

It is understood that he claimed he was working for an international aid agency before being arrested and taken to the north Pakistani city of Peshawar for questioning.

A spokesman for the police in North-West Frontier province said: "We are still trying to ascertain why he was in a no-entry zone. Anyone found in this area will be questioned closely. Until we know why this man was there we cannot rule out a link with the other al-Qa'ida suspects."

The arrest of the Briton is part of a crackdown by Pakistani armed forces as Western intelligence agencies, including the FBI and MI5, seek to identify recruits to Mr bin Laden's cause.

Pakistani intelligence officers are already working with a six-strong team of FBI agents who are questioning 139 men suspected of being hardcore al-Qa'ida members in Kohat, 40 miles south of Peshawar. The American officers are flown to Kohat every night by military plane from Islamabad to conduct their questioning. The police spokesman declined to say whether they were also operating in Peshawar, where Mr McLintock was being held. In London, the Foreign Office said diplomats in Islamabad were urgently seeking information on Mr McLintock, but could not confirm the details of his arrest. A spokesman would only say: "He has not been visited by consular officials."

News of the arrest has come after the detention last weekend of Richard Reid, the south London man alleged to have boarded a flight to Miami wearing shoes packed with explosives. Mr Reid, 28, who converted to Islam while in prison, is believed to have attended a training camp in Afghanistan after being "radicalised" by extremists he met while attending Brixton mosque in south London. Captured al-Qa'ida members are thought to have identified Mr Reid as an ally.

Scotland Yard declined to comment on whether anti-terrorist officers had searched Mr McLintock's British home. MI5 was also understood to be investigating the case.

The security service has been investigating the possibility that up to 37 British Muslims were trained at al-Qa'ida camps in Afghanistan after documents detailing foreign recruits were recovered from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Al-Muhajiroun, the British-based Muslim group which has denied accusations of sending Britons to Afghanistan, said it had no connection with Mr McLintock. A spokesman said: "None of his names are familiar to us."