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Published: August 2, 2004
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 - The unannounced capture of a figure from Al Qaeda in Pakistan several weeks ago led the Central Intelligence Agency to the rich lode of information that prompted the terror alert on Sunday, according to senior American officials.
The figure, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, was described by a Pakistani intelligence official as a 25-year-old computer engineer, arrested July 13, who had used and helped to operate a secret Qaeda communications system where information was transferred via coded messages.
The intelligence official also confirmed the arrest of a computer engineer who would send messages using code words to al-Qaida suspects. Pakistani television reported that his name was Noor Mohammed, but the official said that was just an alias.
Ahmed would not confirm whether the information from Ghailani or the computer expert is what prompted U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to issue a warning Sunday about a possible al-Qaida attack on prominent financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, New Jersey.
Two senior Pakistani officials said initial reports in Western media last week of the capture of 25-year-old Pakistani computer engineer had enabled other al-Qaeda suspects to get away, but declined to say whether the US officials were to blame for the leak. "Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardised our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away," one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.
"The exposure of Naeem’s name proved a blow to the investigations," a senior government official said, on condition of anonymity. The arrests also prompted a series of raids in Britain and uncovered past al-Qaeda surveillance in the United States. Reports said on Tuesday Naeem Noor Khan was trying to get into Canada when he was arrested. His application for a visitor’s visa that would have allowed him to stay in Canada for six months was pending at the time of his arrest, the Globe and Mail and National Post newspapers reported on Tuesday.
The two Pakistani officials said that after Khan’s arrest, other al-Qaeda suspects abruptly changed their hideouts and moved to unknown places. The first official described the initial publication of the news of Khan’s arrest as "very disturbing." He said no Pakistani official had leaked the information.
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old Pakistani computer engineer, was nabbed in a July 13 raid in the eastern city of Lahore. He then led Pakistani authorities to a key al-Qaeda figure and cooperated secretly by sending e-mails to terrorists so investigators could trace their locations.
His arrest was first reported in American newspapers on Aug. 2 after it was disclosed to reporters by U.S. officials in Washington. Later, the Pakistan government also confirmed his capture but gave no other details.
Two senior Pakistani officials said the reports in "Western media" enabled other al-Qaeda suspects to get away.
"Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away," one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.
The first official described the publication of the news of Khan's arrest as "very disturbing."
"We have checked. No Pakistani official made this intelligence leak," he said.
Without naming any country, he said it was the responsibility of "coalition partners" to examine how a foreign journalist was able to have an access to the "classified information" about Khan's arrest.
The official refused to comment whether any U.S. official was responsible for the leak