KARACHI, Pakistan – Police stepped up patrols around foreign consulates and government offices in this volatile city Monday, fearing a backlash after Pakistani forces killed a suspected top Al Qaeda (search) operative wanted for his alleged role in the 2002 kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (search).
Amjad Hussain Farooqi (search), also accused in two attempts on the life of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) in December 2003, died in a four-hour shootout Sunday at a house in the southern town of Nawabshah. Two or three other men, one of them an Islamic cleric, were arrested. Like Farooqi, they are all Pakistanis.
Authorities hailed the operation as a breakthrough.
"We eliminated one of the very major sources of terrorist attacks. He was not only involved on attacks on me but also on attacks elsewhere in the country. So a very big terrorist has been eliminated," Musharraf told reporters in the Netherlands while en route home from addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
"Together with him, there have been some other arrests and we will get a lot of useful information leading to further arrests and eliminations, I am very sure," he said.
On Monday, the investigation expanded to include the arrest of three other suspected Islamic militants, all brothers, in Sukkur, a town not far from Nawabshah. One was identified as Khalid Ansari, alleged to have ties to the Sunni Muslim group Jaish-e-Mohammed (search).
Police said the men were blindfolded and led away by intelligence officials as security forces using loudspeakers warned residents to stay indoors.
A fourth man was arrested in Mirpurkhas, another town in the region, said Syed Kamal Shah, the provincial police chief. He said the man is Pakistani and authorities believe him to be important.
Fayyaz Leghari, deputy chief of police in Karachi, a hotbed for Islamic militants, said the city was on "red alert." As well as stepping up patrols around foreign consulates and key government offices, police posted more plainclothes officers at sensitive locations.
"We have alerted police throughout the province" to be on heightened readiness, said Rauf Siddiqi, the top security official in Sindh province, where the operation was launched.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, meanwhile, issued a renewed travel warning, urging U.S. citizens in Pakistan not to venture out of major urban centers, saying embassy staff may not be able to help those that do.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war against terrorism and has arrested more than 600 Al Qaeda suspects, several of them senior figures in the network. Many have been handed over to U.S. authorities.
In Washington, a U.S. official who described Farooqi as a key Al Qaeda figure said the government could not yet confirm he had been killed but that it appeared to be the case. Pakistani officials said they were awaiting the results of DNA tests but had little doubt the body was that of Farooqi.
Farooqi was believed to have been an associate of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (search), the reputed Al Qaeda No. 3 captured in Pakistan last year. He had been missing since Pearl was abducted in Karachi in January 2002.
Pearl's captors beheaded the journalist and released a videotape of the killing. Four Islamic militants have been convicted of his kidnapping but seven other suspects — including those who allegedly slit his throat — remain at large.
Farooqi, thought to be 32, was born in a village in eastern Punjab province. His family says he was radicalized by a visit to Kashmir, where he trained with Islamic militants fighting against Indian security forces. He later visited Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
In May, security officials identified him as an organizer, with Libyan Al Qaeda suspect Abu Faraj al-Libbi, of two attempts to assassinate Musharraf last December by blowing up his motorcade in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital, Islamabad. Musharraf, who has enraged Islamic militants with his support for Washington's campaign against terrorism, escaped injury both times but several other people were killed. Al-Libbi remains at large.
Farooqi is also suspected of taking part in the hijacking of an Indian airliner to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1999 that resulted in a hostages-for-prisoners exchange that freed British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh from an Indian prison. Sheikh has been sentenced to death for his role in setting up the Pearl abduction.
Dozens of police and paramilitary rangers blocked access Monday to the scene of Sunday's raid in Nawabshah, 125 miles northeast of the main southern city of Karachi. Authorities said they acted on a tip that Farooqi was hiding there. A paramilitary official said that at one point Farooqi shouted he preferred death to capture.
Officials have yet to disclose the identities of those arrested. But an intelligence official in Nawabshah said one was Abdul Rehman, a teacher at an Islamic seminary who had rented the house for Farooqi two months ago.
Another intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said a second suspect as Yaqoob Farooqi. It was unclear if he was related to the dead suspect.
Authorities seized a computer, CDs, militant literature, some grenades, a wire cutter and several photos from the house, the source said.
One neighbor, Zainul Abideen, recounted seeing Farooqi riding a bicycle to and from the house.
Pakistan says it has arrested 70 terror suspects since mid-July, including Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan (search), an alleged Al Qaeda computer expert, and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (search), a Tanzanian suspect in the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in east Africa that killed more than 200 people.