Pearl murder suspect Farooqi shot dead

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The Independent Online

Pakistan claims its security forces have killed a leading al-Qa'ida member who was a main suspect in the kidnap and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and an assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf last December.

"We've eliminated one of the very major sources of terrorist threat," President Musharraf said yesterday. "Not only was he involved in the attacks on me but also in attacks elsewhere in the country. So a very big terrorist has been eliminated."

In the hunt for al-Qa'ida, there is little way of confirming the allegations that emerge against suspects from intelligence services, sourced to the interrogation of captives. But the name of Amjad Farooqi has come up again and again. There was a 20m rupees price (£188,000) on his head in Pakistan. He had been wanted for more than two years, but somehow managed to avoid capture.

He was run to ground on Sunday in Nawabshah, in the restive interior of Sindh province, Pakistani authorities say, and died after a two-hour shoot-out. Islamabad says its security forces tried to take him alive. Two other militants were captured alive and three men were arrested in the Sindh town of Sukkar, about 240 miles north of Karachi.

Farooqi's name had surfaced after the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, beheaded in front of a video camera in 2002, long before militants started using the tactic in Iraq. The more police investigated the murky case, the more Farooqi's name came up. He was there the night Mr Pearl was kidnapped, some reports say. He was there when Mr Pearl was lured from a safe corner of central Karachi where he had set up a meeting with a contact, he was in the car in which the journalist was driven to the remote house in the suburbs where he was held prisoner, and murdered.

Other reports say Farooqi was the linchpin of the operation, the connection between Omar Sheikh - the British-born militant who lured Mr Pearl to his death, but was not there when he was killed - and the men who held the knife and the camera. Sheikh was sentenced to death, Farooqi and other suspects eluded pursuers.

In May, Farooqi's name came up again. President Musharraf had narrowly survived assassination attempts, including a suicide one on Christmas Day last year that killed 15 people and wounded 45. In an interview on Pakistani television, he said a Pakistani was behind them. His intelligence sources said that was Farooqi.

He was said to be the vital link in al-Qa'ida's activities in Pakistan, and his controller was believed to be a Libyan, Abu Faraj Farj, a leading al-Qa'ida member in Pakistan. "Farooqi's elimination is a crushing blow to the al-Qa'ida network in Pakistan because he was the man who had been providing al-Qa'ida terrorists with the manpower to carry out attacks," an unnamed security source was quoted by the AFP news agency yesterday.

Not only was he an associate of Omar Sheikh, but reports state he was also close to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September attacks on the US, who was captured in Pakistan and is now in US custody. Farooqi, aged 32 and from Toba Tek Singh in Punjab province, is said to have travelled to Afghanistan for training at an al-Qa'ida camp in the 1990s.

Pakistan's Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, said yesterday that Farooqi had been monitored and his phone tapped before security forces tried to capture him.

"When encircled, he tried to use women and children as human shields," Mr Sherpao said. "He was killed when he tried to charge the law enforcing agencies with grenades." The minister said the identities of themilitants who were taken alive had not been confirmed.

Pakistan has arrested more than 500 al-Qa'ida suspects and handed many of them to the United States. Osama Bin Laden is thought to be hiding in the forbidding mountainous terrain bordering Afghanistan.