British officials are investigating reports that one of seven suspected al-Qa'ida operatives captured in a joint US-Pakistan operation was involved in the July 2005 attack on London.
Unnamed intelligence sources in Pakistan reportedly said that Zabi ul Taifi was among the men captured yesterday near the north-west city of Peshawar. A raid was conducted by Pakistani police who used helicopters to hover above the scene while US intelligence agents watched from a nearby car.
The Pakistani sources said Mr Taifi was believed to have some involvement in the 2005 bomb attacks in London. It is understood, however, that British officials were not aware of him or his alleged involvement in the attacks prior to yesterday's operation. A spokesperson for the High Commission in Islamabad said: "We are aware of the reports and we are looking into them."
The seven men who were arrested during the raid at Bara Qadeem village on the outskirts of Peshawar have been arrested in connection with a recent flurry of violent attacks on trucks laden with supplies destined for American and Nato troops in Afghanistan. Reports said the men had been traced to a house owned by an Afghan refugee in Bara Qadeem. Pakistani officials told the Associated Press that they were acting after receiving a tip-off from US intelligence officials, in a sign of improved intelligence sharing between Washington and Islamabad.
Pakistani police entered the house as American intelligence officials, who were seen arriving in a black car with tinted windows, stood by watching. A pilotless drone, routinely deployed by the CIA to collect intelligence and fire Hellfire missiles at suspected militants, and three helicopters buzzed overhead.
The intelligence sharing between Pakistan and the US follows a deal between the two countries - revealed last year by The Independent - to cooperate on operations against high-value targets. The understanding was reached at a meeting between Pakistan's Army Chief General General Ashfaq Kayani and General David Petraeus, head of the US's CentCom, on a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Despite the agreement, Pakistani officials routinely condemn US missile strikes on Pakistan soil, which have sharply increased since last summer.
Last night, the head of Pakistan Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, confirmed that seven people had been arrested. He did not identify the detainees or detail their alleged crimes but described them a foreigner and six Pakistanis. Other reports claimed three of the men were Arabs and four were Afghans.
Given that that the operation appears to have specifically been targeting militants blamed for attacks on the US supply route into Afghanistan, it would be a considerable additional victory for the security forces if one of those arrested proves to have been involved in an incident such as the July 2005 bombings.
More than fifty people were killed and 700 were injured when bombers attacked three London Underground trains and a bus in the centre of the capital. Three of the suicide bombers were British-born men of Pakistani descent. It is claimed that two of the bombers trained at camps in northwest Pakistan
Defending the Western supply route into Afghanistan has recently become a crucial issue. Some half a dozen attacks have been mounted on the main route used to channel over three quarters of food, fuel and war materiel (CRRCT) through the Khyber Pass. Pakistan has been forced to close the route twice during that time while it launched military operations to clear the region of militants.
In light of the new US administration's pledge to double troops in Afghanistan this year, Washington has secured an alternative "northern corridor". On a visit to Islamabad this week, Gen. Petraeus announced that agreements had been reached with Russia and central Asian states for a route leading into northern Afghanistan.