ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan, a key partner in the U.S.-led war on terror, will declare Al Qaeda a terrorist organization so it can prosecute low-level followers of the group, the interior minister said Monday.
Pakistan had not named Al Qaeda a terrorist group previously because the shadowy organization is not based there. But many Al Qaeda operatives are believed to be in Pakistan and the government wants to have the legal means to bring them and their supporters to court.
Those targets include people who have harbored Al Qaeda fugitives but have not committed terrorist acts themselves.
Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat announced the plan after returning from talks in France, Algeria and Egypt. He said France agreed to train Pakistani agents, and all three countries agreed to share intelligence with Pakistan.
"Practically, and by all means, Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization, but we want to formally declare it so to avoid some legal complications," said Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, Pakistan's intelligence coordinator in the war on terror.
"This decision will help prosecutors get those people punished whose cases are pending in the courts for hiding Al Qaeda men."
An unknown number of Arabs and other supporters who fought with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan fled across the border into Pakistan after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Pakistan has surrendered more than 400 suspected Al Qaeda operatives to the United States, including two top lieutenants of Usama bin Laden.
In 2002, Pakistan, under U.S. pressure to ease tensions with neighboring India, outlawed two anti-Indian militant groups and three radical Islamic organizations.
Hayyat said he also signed an agreement in Algiers to extradite some Algerians suspected of having Al Qaeda links.