Pakistan hands over Iraqi `bomber' to US

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In a secret intelligence co-operation between the United States and Pakistan, an Iraqi man described as a ringleader in the World Trade Center bombing was captured in Islamabad and flown swiftly to New York for trial.

Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, 27, pleaded not guilty in New York yesterday to charges that he had made the bombs which Islamic extremists exploded on 26 February 1993 in a car park under the 110-storey towers of the world's second tallest buildings. The blast, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000, was the worst terrorist attack in the US. President Bill Clinton called the Iraqi's arrest "a major step forward in the fight against terrorism".

Mr Yousef had been on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" since being indicted immediately after the blast. The agency had been offering a $2m (£1.3m) reward for information on his whereabouts. Four others charged with perpetrating the attack were convictedlast year and sentenced in May to life imprisonment without parole. The Yousef trial is likely to be heard by the same judge, Kevin Duffy. No date has been set.

Meanwhile in Manhattan, a related trial opened two weeks ago of the Islamic cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and ten others on charges that they helped to orchestrate the Trade Center explosion and conspired to bomb other New York landmarks including the United Nations building.

The prosecution case against Sheikh Omar's Muslim extremists - that they were plotting a campaign of assassination and terrorism, both in the US and Egypt - was strengthened after the man described as one of the masterminds of the World Trade Centre bombing, Siddiq Ibrahim Siddiq Ali, confessed on Monday and agreed to co-operate with authorities.

In Mr Yousef's case, prosecutors allege that he arrived in the US with bomb-making manuals and supplied defendants in the bombing case with money to buy explosives. Before fleeing, he worked as a taxi driver and worshipped at the Jersey City mosque, where Sheikh Omar preached.

In Islamabad, Pakistani authorities were tipped off by Interpol that Mr Yousef might be arriving under a fake passport. He narrowly escaped being caught in the Philippines, where police claim he was involved in a failed plot last month to kill the Pope. He is thought to have sneaked into Pakistan eight months earlier.

Travelling under a false passport as "Ali Khan", Mr Yousef flew into Islamabad from Thailand on Tuesday, but he was kept under surveillance for two days before he was arrested. Police sources said explosives were found in his suitcase, hidden inside toys. After verifying that his fingerprints matched those on bomb-making manuals and chemicals found in the terrorists' New Jersey hideout,the Iraqi was secretly flown to New York.

Some Pakistani Muslim groups have protested against past extraditions of suspected drug dealers and terrorists, but this time no objections were raised. The capture has helped sagging relations between Pakistan and the US. The Clinton administration refuses to hand over F-16 warplanes Islamabad has paid for because of the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, refuses to halt the country's nuclear programme.

The Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said that Mr Yousef, with thousands of other Arab extremists and revolutionaries, might have received training in Afghan rebel camps during the jihad (holy war) in the Eighties against the Soviet occupation. Ironically, the Afghan rebel leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was the main beneficiary of CIA arms supplies, is thought to be giving sanctuary to extremists connected to Mr Yousef's alleged terrorist network.