Published August 04, 2004
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Two South African men — captured along with a senior Al Qaeda (search) terrorist — were plotting attacks on tourist sites in their home country, and vowed an unceasing battle against America and President Bush when authorities nabbed them after a 12-hour gunbattle, a senior police official said Wednesday.
The South African suspects were identified as Feroz Ibrahim, believed to be in his 30s, and Zubair Ismail, a man in his 20s, said Raja Munawar Hussain, the chief of police in Gujrat, the eastern Pakistani city where they were arrested on July 25.
Hussain told The Associated Press that authorities found several maps of South African cities among the items seized after the raid, which also netted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (search), a Tanzanian with a $25 million bounty on his head for the 1998 twin East Africa embassy bombings.
"They were all very well trained terrorists because of the way they fought the gunbattle and the way they engaged us for 12 hours. This is something no common man could have done," said Hussain.
A Lahore-based intelligence official said authorities believe the men wanted to target tourist sites in Johannesburg, South Africa's commercial center. The men are believed to have arrived in Pakistan on a flight from the United Arab Emirates just days before their arrest.
The Johannesburg daily The Star quoted unidentified police sources as saying that key landmarks were among the targets, including the Carlton Center shopping mall, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (search) and the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg; parliament and the V&A Waterfront mall (search) in Cape Town; and the U.S. Embassy, government buildings and the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria.
Another Johannesburg newspaper, ThisDay, said the British ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was another target that was supposed to be attacked as it arrived in Durban or Cape Town from Mauritius.
Ronnie Mamoepa, a spokesman for South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs refused to confirm the reports.
"There has been no independent confirmation of the reports, therefore in our view this remains speculative," he said. He added that the South African Embassy in Islamabad is awaiting permission to visit the prisoners and has no details of the investigation.
"We have not been told anything," he said.
The men are not believed to be the two high-level Al Qaeda terrorists that Pakistan's interior minister said were arrested in the past few days.
Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat said the men were of African origin, and that one had a multimillion dollar bounty on his head. He has refused to name them.
Hussain, the Gujrat police chief, said the two South Africans and Ghailani denounced America and President Bush as they were arrested, after a fierce 12-hour gunbattle.
"They were all very emotional and very aggressive," he said. "They were putting down Bush, saying he is our enemy and we will pursue him and America until we win."
He said Ghailani was shaking with anger as he shouted: "God is great! This is God's land and we are his men."
Pakistani authorities also denied reports in a local newspaper that they had handed Ghailani to U.S. officials.
Interior Ministry spokesman Abdur Rauf Chaudhry said Ghailani was still in Pakistani custody.
Also Wednesday, a Pakistani woman filed a petition in a Karachi court saying authorities had mistaken her husband for a wanted terrorist named Masrab Arochi.
Authorities say they arrested Arochi — the nephew of former Al Qaeda No. 3 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (search) — in a raid in Karachi in June. But Jamila Khatoon, said the man was actually her husband, Abdul Karum Mahmood, and that he had nothing to do with terrorism.
"The man arrested on that night is Mahmood who hails from Turbat, settled in Kuwait and frequently used to visit Pakistan. He has a Pakistani identity card and passport," said the woman's lawyer, Khaja Naveed Ahmed. There was no immediate reaction from authorities.
Arochi is said to have led authorities to another man, a suspected Al Qaeda computer expert identified as Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan (search). Khan was arrested July 13, and in turn led police to Ghailani.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said authorities found plans for attacks on the United States and Britain in Ghailani's computer.
Intelligence gained from Khan's and other arrests was a major factor in U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's decision to issue a warning Sunday about possible Al Qaeda attacks on prominent financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J.
Pakistani officials have pointed to several other arrests in recent days, including a policeman accused of passing information to militants, a Syrian nabbed at a bus stop, and three suspected militants — two Pakistanis and a foreigner — arrested on a road near Lahore. Police found five grenades and two AK-47 rifles in their sports utility vehicle, a high-ranking intelligence official told AP.