Pakistani Army arrests ‘senior al Qaeda commander’ in Karachi

Today the Pakistani military claimed it has arrested a “senior al Qaeda commander” named Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub (also known as Abu Sohaib Al Makki) during a raid in the southern port city of Karachi. From the Inter-Service Public Relations press release:

A senior Al Qaeda operative, Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub alias Abu Sohaib Al Makki, has been arrested by the security agencies from Karachi.

According to preliminary investigations; Al Makki is Yemeni national and has been working directly under Al Qaeda leaders along Pak-Afghan borders.

The arrest of Al Makki is a major development in unraveling the Al Qaeda Network operating in the region.

It is unusual for the Pakistani Army to officially announce the capture of an al Qaeda leader. In years of monitoring the ISPR press releases, this is the first time I can recall an al Qaeda commander’s capture being announced in such a fashion.

Makki is an unknown; there is no information on him available in the public sphere. This doesn’t mean he’s not a legitimate al Qaeda leader. Often we do not know the importance of al Qaeda leaders and operatives until they are killed or captured. For instance, the identity of Saleh al Somali, al Qaeda’s former external operations chief, was unknown until he was killed in a US Predator airstrike.

That said, Pakistan is under considerable pressure to demonstrate to the US and the West it is indeed relevant in the fight against al Qaeda. The US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad has raised all sorts of concerns that Pakistan is not serious about battling terrorist groups. CIA Director Leon Panetta even said that Pakistan could not be trusted with information on the bin Laden raid, due to concerns that officials would tip off the al Qaeda chief.

It remains to be seen if Makki is a bona fide al Qaeda commander or just another usual suspect offered up to demonstrate the Pakistani Army’s commitment against al Qaeda.

Update: Pakistani officials are claiming Makki/Yaqub was a courier who linked bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. See LWJ report, Al Qaeda operative arrested in Karachi was ‘courier’ between bin Laden, Zawahiri: Pakistani officials, for more information.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Vienna,17-05-2011
    Worth watching Bill boss.If it is a U turn or a farce. It should be considered together with the death of
    five in a gunfight including three suspected
    Chechnean terror women and their jihadist brothers
    in a place close to Quetta.The place name sounded
    new to me.

  • cp says:

    Ain’t No such thing as [Co-incidence] but there sure is alot of [Drama-ganda] now-a-daze.
    Thats my (2)pennys

  • Charu says:

    A predictable dog-and-pony show trotted out by the ISI.
    In the meantime, Pakistani troops fired on an ISAF chopper at the border and (surprise!) got shot back and killed. The Pakistani army is notorious for providing cover to jihadis attempting to cross into Indian Kashmir, and they must have foolishly thought that they could do the same on their western border.

  • Tyler says:

    Yeah, it smells like ‘look at how helpful we are’ but I’m also mindful of the reportage that the Bin Laden intel cache had revealed the identities of suspects ‘previously unknown to the US.’

  • AAndrew says:

    Poll question:
    Al Makki will:
    a) Be freed by Pakistan upon pinky swearing that he will never ever do anything bad again.
    b) Be freed as a result of a “prison break” in which tens of guards will not notice hundreds of other prisoners leaving the prison
    c) Al Makki will turn out to be the Chauncy Gardener (see Peter Seller’s brilliant “Being There”) of AQ

  • Charles says:

    The Paks have grabbed high level Taliban in the past and placed them in protective custody when they were fearful that the Taliban operatives would be offed by the US or alternatively the Paks wanted the Taliban operatives under their control because they feared they might make a separate peace with the US/afghans.
    AQ is different.
    I could believe this guy was picked up either because of US OBL intel or because the Paks needed to show some good faith. But he could also now be in protective custody. We’ll just have to see what becomes of he guy in the coming weeks and months.
    For example,if the paks keep the guy, or don’t allow the US to conduct extensive interviews with the guy– it will look like he’s in protective custody.

  • JT says:

    My two cents’ worth:
    In the past, when Pakistan was under extreme publicized pressure from the US, they somehow managed to capture a HVT. Examples include bin al Shib and KSM (12 months and 18 months after 9-11-01, respectively). In other words, they have always known where these guys are and give up some once in a while to appear helpful and fend off complete US indifference (pull $$$) or reprisal.
    Here is hoping that this unknown is in fact a HVT. Other possibilities are much less favorable – such as they don’t know any more where HVTs are and are desperate to try, they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes, IS has complete control, etc.

  • Marlin says:

    The BBC is reporting that Qasim was the courier between bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. One has to wonder, did the intelligence gathered in Abbottabad help lead to this capture? Or did the capture of bin Laden force the Pakistani’s hand to make this move before the Americans found out?

    Officials later told the BBC that Qasim was key courier between Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
    The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that since Bin Laden was found and killed by US commandos on Pakistani soil on 2 May, the country’s military establishment has been under scrutiny and pressure.

    BBC: Pakistan arrests ‘senior al-Qaeda operative’

  • kp says:

    @JT: “In the past, when Pakistan was under extreme publicized pressure from the US, they somehow managed to capture a HVT. Examples include bin al Shib and KSM (12 months and 18 months after 9-11-01, respectively). In other words, they have always known where these guys are and give up some once in a while to appear helpful and fend off complete US indifference (pull $$$) or reprisal.”

    The problem with this idea is that both bin al Shib and KSM were both located with the help of SIGINT (AQ used a batch of Swiss GSM SIM cards with sequential serials that were tracked post 9/11 by NSA even though KSM et all were changing phones and phone numbers … it’s in the public domain).

    Both of these captures were joint US/Pakistani operations I suspect with the US in the lead.

    The ISI didn’t pull these two out of the hat to give to the Americans to keep them happy. The Americans found the hat and helped pull them out.

    That said I don’t disagree that the reason for the current pickup is either from post-UBL intel from the US (though I think it less likely) or IB has been trying to find him or perhaps the ISI picked him up perhaps to protect AZ and worried that CIA were on this guys trail. Or the ISI know him and gave him up to ingratiate themselves with the US or the Pak Army or President (“see we’re not incompetent”). Or it could be a deception op (I doubt this one as it would annoy the US immensely and would be found out). One can make up any number of scenarios to this outcome.

    Final point is “who picked him up”. It may well be that the IB (== MI5 rather than the ISI == MI6) found and tracked him (state security/counter-espionage is the IB’s job). Pakistan isn’t a monoculture it’s more like the Holy Roman Empire with a lot of fiefdoms.

    On the other hand it doesn’t take much of a CT fan to notice that the loud announcement “AZ COURIER CAPTURED” before the US can get any prompt intel that would lead to AZ. But that might be also explained by the effort to show “how good they really are” and not giving a damn about getting to AZ. Who knows.

    On the upside if he’s real and the Pakistanis interrogate him then they might get more from him that we could. Both the UBL capture and the capture of this courier has got to worry AZ. Maybe he’ll do something: move perhaps.


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