Pakistan Questions 18 Captured Al Qaeda Suspects Following Massive Raid

Authorities questioned 18 Al Qaeda (search) suspects Friday, trying to determine the identities and loyalties of the men captured in Pakistan's largest raid against Osama bin Laden's (search) terror network.

It was not yet known if any top-ranking Al Qaeda figures were among the captured, three of whom were wounded in Thursday's battle at a compound in the dusty hills of South Waziristan (search), a rugged tribal area on the Afghan border.

Interrogators sought to find out the men's names and nationalities, what links they had to Al Qaeda and what contacts -- if any -- they've had with bin Laden, an intelligence official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. Pakistani officials had earlier said that many of the men appeared to have Central Asian features.

The interrogators will also focus on whether the group included any fighters from the Taliban, the regime ousted from neighboring Afghanistan by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001.

The official said the men were in a secret location and he declined to disclose their conditions.

About 200 Pakistani soldiers took part in more than 16 hours of fierce fighting to arrest the men.

Gen. Shaukat Sultan, a Pakistani military spokesman, said eight Al Qaeda suspects and two Pakistani soldiers died in the raid.

"I don't think anyone got away," Sultan told The Associated Press. "Whomever was inside, either they were apprehended or killed."

North and South Waziristan, in Pakistan's ultraconservative North West Frontier Province (search), have long been considered likely hiding places for bin Laden and his alleged deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri (search), as well as Taliban fighters.

The area is home to tribesmen who, like the Taliban (search), are ethnic Pashtuns. Many in the region consider bin Laden a Muslim freedom fighter and say they would not turn him over to American infidels.

Taliban fighters are also believed to use Waziristan as a staging ground to launch attacks inside Afghanistan. On Monday, a U.S. soldier was killed in a gun battle with anti-coalition forces near a base at Shkin, a town in Afghanistan's Paktika province, just across the border from South Waziristan.

Sultan said the army took action after Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency received information that Al Qaeda fighters were in the area. He refused to say whether U.S. intelligence agencies aided the operation.

"Intelligence sharing among the coalition and Pakistani troops is ongoing, but I wouldn't confirm whether it was involved in this operation," he said.

According to the intelligence official, the Al Qaeda suspects started moving into the area in September and most were living in two large compounds.

"They were being watched round the clock," he said.

Hand grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and anti-tank mines seized during the operation will "help trace any remaining Al Qaeda men and Taliban in the area," he said.

Thursday's raid came the same day that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca had been due to arrive in Pakistan for talks on the war on terrorism. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced the visit had been postponed for "scheduling reasons."

Several high-profile Pakistani operations against Al Qaeda have occurred at the same time as major diplomatic events. Pakistani officials have insisted the timing has been coincidental.