May 092005

Making much out of the situation, President Bush, last week, announced the capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, supposedly a very senior al Qaeda leader in Pakistan who might lead us to Osama. Now it turns out, the capture may have been just another case of mistaken identity. The Sunday Times of London reports that European counter-terrorism experts believe Bush and Rice got it wrong, and confused al-Libbi with another much more senior al Qaeda leader named Anas al-Liby, who is thought to be a mastermind of the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. al-Liby has not been captured.

When The Sunday Times contacted a senior FBI counter-terrorism official for information about the importance of the detained man, he sent material on al-Liby, the wrong man.

“Al-Libbi is just a ‘middle-level’ leader,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, a French intelligence investigator and leading expert on terrorism finance. “Pakistan and US authorities have completely overestimated his role and importance. He was never more than a regional facilitator between Al-Qaeda and local Pakistani Islamic groups.”

And there is more:

No European or American intelligence expert contacted last week had heard of al-Libbi until a Pakistani intelligence report last year claimed he had taken over as head of operations after Khalid Shaikh Mohammad’s arrest. A former close associate of Bin Laden now living in London laughed: “What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.”

Some believe al-Libbi’s significance has been cynically hyped by two countries that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing Bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years.

Even a senior FBI official admitted that al-Libbi’s “influence and position have been overstated”. But this weekend the Pakistani government was sticking to the line that al-Libbi was the third most important person in the Al-Qaeda network.

And of course, we’ve been torturing the guy…ahh, I mean, "applying physical pressure," but he’s not giving up anything. Big surprise there.

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