Pakistan chasing fresh leads on al-Qaeda hideouts

Pakistan has uncovered fresh evidence as to where al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding along its border with Afghanistan, senior Pakistani officials said on Friday.

The information comes in part from the computer files of Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, alias Abu Talha, a young Pakistani computer engineer allegedly involved with running an email communication system for al-Qaeda leaders. It has led investigators to focus on at least three previously undetected sites. Initial Pakistani reconnaissance suggests that 50-70 heavily armed guards are at each location, indicating the likely presence of senior al-Qaeda figures.

Other sources of information used by Pakistani security have included Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted for the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa; a second African for whom the US has offered a reward of $5m; and at least 20 other members of al-Qaeda.

The boost in the hunt for senior al-Qaeda figures comes only days after the US warned of a terror threat to Washington and New York's financial centres. But it also came as the UK, which has in the past few days detained 13 men over terrorism allegations, warned against unnecessary alerts in a coded sideswipe at the US.

Some British counter-terrorism officials have claimed that information found on Mr Khan's computer was being used by the US and Pakistani authorities to boost their image. David Blunkett, British Home Secretary, said on Friday that the UK was still in the state of ?heightened readiness? it had been in since late last year, but added: ?There is also a difference between alerting the public to a specific threat and alarming people unnecessarily by passing on information indiscriminately. I think we have got the balance right.?

In Pakistan, officials said the investigation of the new leads was being treated quietly, after an embarrassing incident this year when General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, publicly announced that his troops had surrounded a location in the south Waziristan border region where high-value al-Qaeda targets were believed to be hiding.

Separately, Saudi authorities said another person they had arrested late on Thursday with Faris al-Zahrani, one of the kingdom's most wanted terrorist suspects, would not be named ?for the sake of the [national] interest?.

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