U.S. and Pakistani agents interrogate Taliban leader


ISLAMABAD, AFP

U.S. and Pakistani agents were interrogating the Taliban’s former defense minister Saturday in the hope that he can help them hunt down other militant leaders, security officials said.

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, who had a US$1 million bounty on his head posted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was arrested with four other suspects Wednesday in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. Pakistani officials said Akhund, a key aide to Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammad Omar and an insurgent commander in southern Afghanistan, was flown to the capital Islamabad by helicopter after his capture.

“He is being interrogated by a joint team of Pakistani and U.S. officials in Islamabad,” a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The official did not specify which U.S. agency the officials were from, although the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation are operating in Pakistan in small numbers. U.S. officials have been involved in the questioning of several key al-Qaida and Taliban figures captured by Pakistani forces since thousands of militants fled the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Pakistan has also handed a number of suspects to the United States, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Obaidullah is an important figure in the militant network and the authorities will want to know the strength of the group and its tentacles in Pakistan,” the official added.

Akhund was arrested at a Quetta hotel on the basis of “very solid” intelligence, officials said. Plain-clothes agents picked him up when he arrived at the hotel where the other four suspects were already staying.

“It is a major breakthrough and we hope he can lead to the arrest of a few other of the most wanted Taliban commanders,” the security official said.

He did not say which other Taliban militants were under scrutiny.

A Taliban spokesman Friday denied that Akhund had been captured, saying that he was still in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has yet to officially confirm the arrest.