The 5-Minute Briefing: What has happened to al-Qa'ida?

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The Independent Online

A reportedly high-ranking figure in al-Qa'ida was captured this week in Pakistan.

A reportedly high-ranking figure in al-Qa'ida was captured this week in Pakistan. Who is Abu Faraj al-Libi?

He is said to be the third ranking member of al-Qa'ida and the successor of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief operational planner of the 11 September attacks (who was captured in March 2003). Some European intelligence figures doubt his importance but President Bush called the arrest of the 41-year-old "a critical victory in the war on terror". Pakistanis say he was the ringleader in two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf in 2003.

What is the importance of his arrest?

US and Pakistani officials expect his interrogation to yield information on al-Qa'ida's network in south Asia. Questioning was "proceeding well", according to Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. More than 20 suspects have been picked up since Libi was seized. The big prize, however, could be information on Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Libi is a confidant of the al-Qa'ida leader.

How many of al-Qa'ida's leaders are still at large?

The two prime fugitives are, of course, Bin Laden, who has a $25m (£13m) reward on his head, and Zawahiri. They are believed to be in hiding in the frontier region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many other leaders on the FBI's original 20 most-wanted terrorist list are either in custody or dead. Pakistani officials say another important al-Qa'ida operative, for whom a multi-million dollar reward is on offer, was captured alongside Libi. But they are not revealing his identity.

What threat does al-Qa'ida now pose?

Officials say major inroads have been made into the organisation, seriously disrupting operations and communication. No terrorist attack has occurred on the US mainland since 11 September, and intelligence officials believe increased security has forced al-Qa'ida to shift its focus to the Middle East (Iraq) and Europe.

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