A “senior al Qaeda commander” recently captured by Pakistani security officials served as a courier between slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri.
Yesterday, the Pakistani military, via its Inter-Service Public Relations directorate, took the unusual step of announcing the capture of Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub, a Yemeni citizen who is also known as Abu Sohaib Al Makki, during a raid in the southern port city of Karachi.
The Pakistani military provided little detail on Yaqub. He was described as both a “senior al Qaeda operative” and a “senior al Qaeda commander” who was “working directly under al Qaeda leaders along Pak-Afghan borders.”
“The arrest of Al Makki [Yaqub] is a major development in unraveling the al Qaeda Network operating in the region,” the brief ISPR statement concluded.
Unnamed Pakistani military officials later told BBC that Yaqub was arrested on May 4, just two days after Osama bin Laden was killed during a raid in Abbottabad.
Yaqub was described as a mid-level al Qaeda operative and a “key courier” who facilitated communications between bin Laden and Zawahiri.
“Fluent in Pashtu and Urdu, he was allegedly one of the main couriers between bin Laden and Zawahiri, and helped al Qaeda leaders travel between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the BBC reported. “He is also said to have been an important recruiter, which led to him traveling abroad frequently.” He also was an “explosives expert, according to Dawn.
Pakistani officials said Yaqub entered Pakistan in 2001 and has lived in Karachi with his wife and three children “for some time,” Dawn reported. Yaqub “moved around Pakistan to avoid detection, living in Abbottabad – where bin Laden was found – Faisalabad, Peshawar and Karachi,” according to the BBC.
Yaqub is also said to be linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula ideologue Anwar al Awlaki and to Ramsi bin Alshib, the key facilitator in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US who is currently in US custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Bin Alshib was also captured in Karachi, in September 2002.
The announcement of Yaqub’s capture appears to be part of an effort by the Pakistani military to show it is capable of reining in al Qaeda. In the past, the Pakistani military has not issued press releases on senior al Qaeda operatives who have been killed or captured [see Threat Matrix report, Pakistani Army arrests ‘senior al Qaeda commander’ in Karachi].
Pakistan has yet to allow US intelligence officials to interrogate Yaqub.
Yaqub’s capture takes place as US and Pakistan relations are at an all-time low. Pakistan has been under considerable pressure to demonstrate to the US and the West it is indeed relevant in the fight against al Qaeda after bin Laden was found living with his family in a large compound in Abbottabad for over six years. The US launched a unilateral raid to kill bin Laden and did not notify Pakistani officials as the US feared bin Laden would be tipped off.
Pakistani officials are privately admitting they must demonstrate their commitment to fight al Qaeda to the US.
“The whole Osama issue has been very embarrassing for us, and that is why we have significantly stepped up efforts to capture any militants that may be hiding here,” a Pakistani military official told Dawn.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.