[A-List] Afghanistan: the blowback continues

Keaney Michael Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Sep 12 03:17:03 MDT 2002

Gun battle uproots terror suspects
Firefight during raid on al Qaeda cell in city
The Herald, 12 September 2002

Pakistani police shot dead two suspected al Qaeda members and captured five others in a ferocious four-hour gunfight yesterday, stepping up pressure on the remnants of the terrorist movement a year after it made its mark on the world.

Six officers, including two intelligence agents, were wounded when police stormed a top-floor flat and its rooftop, where the gunmen held out against hundreds of troops in the street below and on the roofs of nearby blocks of flats. Two of the wounded were in critical condition.

Police said one of the dead militants and one of those arrested were Arabs, but their nationalities were not known. The rest were said to be Afghans.

The interior ministry in Islamabad confirmed all the gunmen were foreigners but released no further information. A neighbour said the men moved into the flat in an upmarket area about three months ago.

Police seized a laptop computer and literature, plus assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols and hand grenades.

Police retracted an earlier report that a four-year-old girl was killed in the crossfire.

Karachi, a warren-like city of 12 million, has become a refuge for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan when US-led coalition forces chased them into the mountains bordering Pakistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime.

Authorities have captured 402 al Qaeda activists in Pakistan since the start of the war on terrorism. Karachi has also been the scene of several attacks this year attributed to al Qaeda or its supporters.

In January, Daniel Pearl, an American journalist, was kidnapped here. His body was found in May. British-born Sheikh Omar was sentenced to death in July for the murder in July, while three other Islamic militants received life sentences.

A car bomb in May killed 11 French engineers and three others, including the suicide attacker. Twelve Pakistanis were killed in June when a car bomb exploded outside the US consulate.

In other developments in the war against terrorism, soldiers from the US 82nd airborne division have begun a search-and-destroy operation in Afghanistan's Barmal Valley, less than 10 miles from Osama bin Laden's suspected refuge.

Hundreds of heavily-armed paratroopers have spent two days combing the 9000ft mountain passes which border South Waziristan, the tribal territory on the Pakistan side of the border, where the last sighting was reported of the world's most wanted man.

Barmal, a known al Qaeda stronghold, also bestrides the main infiltration route from Pakistan back into five Afghan provinces.

Intelligence reports said there was evidence that several hundred of the routed Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who fled into Pakistan in December were starting to filter back into Afghanistan in small groups for hit-and-run raids against the Karzai regime in Kabul and US forces.

A spokesman for the US command headquarters at Bagram airbase on the outskirts of the Afghan capital confirmed that the operation was under way "to capture or kill al Qaeda members and deny them the ability to conduct operations in the area".

Several Afghans have been arrested and flown to Bagram for questioning and one firefight has taken place. No casualties were reported. Several weapons caches have also been found.

In Washington, meanwhile, General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said hunting down Saddam Hussein's mobile Scud missile launchers would be "job number one" if America attacks Iraq.

Hundreds of US Delta Force commandos and at least one 72-man squadron of British SAS troopers have been training secretly in Jordan and Oman, and several teams are believed to have carried out Scud-spotting missions behind Iraqi lines.

Saddam managed to conceal between nine and 18 of the missiles from UN weapons inspectors after the 1991 Gulf war. Most of these are now deployed near H3, the command and control base for Iraq's western air defence sector, which allied aircraft bombed last Thursday.

The prime worry for Pentagon planners is that the Iraqi dictator would launch Scuds tipped with germ or nerve-gas warheads against Tel Aviv to provoke Israel into a retaliation, which would unite most of the Arab and Muslim world behind Iraq.

However, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that satellite and other surveillance technology had advanced "by a quantum leap" in the 11 years since the last Gulf conflict. The time between detecting and tackling a mobile launcher, known in military parlance as the "kill gap", has decreased from hours to minutes.

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