LONDON, Reuters

Pakistan provided information leading to the arrest of 12 terrorism suspects in Britain and may have thwarted a plot to attack London’s Heathrow airport, sources in Islamabad told Reuters on Thursday.

U.S. officials seized upon reports of the Pakistani link to the British arrests, describing them as part of a new campaign against al-Qaida by the United States and its allies, tied to a security alert in New York, Washington and New Jersey this week.

But British police downplayed any Pakistani role in the arrests, saying their investigation was ongoing before they received information from Islamabad.

The role of Pakistani intelligence in Britain’s arrests goes to the heart of a political debate in the United States, where the White House has defended its decision to launch the disruptive “Orange alert” in three metropolitan areas.

Several British newspapers said the 12 men arrested in coordinated raids on Tuesday included a senior al-Qaida figure named as either Abu Musa al-Hindi or Abu Eisa al-Hindi. The newspapers said he was believed to be plotting an attack on Heathrow airport, the world’s busiest. An unnamed senior U.S. official quoted in The New York Times also reported Hindi’s arrest, and described him as someone of serious interest to Washington.

A senior Pakistani government official told Reuters maps of Heathrow were found on computers of Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, arrested three weeks ago and described by intelligence sources as an al-Qaida communications expert.

“The entire crackdown in London is based on the information extracted from him,” the official said. “Maps of Heathrow airport were found from his computer which was one of their targets.”

Khan’s computers also provided the data that led to the clampdown in New York.

A Pakistani intelligence officer said: “We got the information on the people who were arrested in Britain from the computer of Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan. We got some names and there were also some e-mails he had sent.”