KARACHI, Pakistan – Pakistan confirmed Saturday it is holding about a dozen foreigners arrested in raids in Karachi this week, including two believed to be senior Al Qaeda figures. U.S. authorities identified one as Ramzi Binalshibh, a key planner of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Speaking to reporters, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider did not come out and say that Binalshibh was among them. However, when he was told that media reports from the United States said Binalshibh was in custody, Haider replied: "He was arrested in this operation."
Binalshibh, a roommate of hijacking leader Mohamed Atta in Germany, is believed by the FBI to have been intended as the 20th hijacker before he failed to enter the United States.
The statement said about a dozen foreigners were apprehended and two were killed during raids Monday night and Wednesday morning. "Two out of those arrested are suspected to be high-level Al Qaeda men and their identity is being confirmed," the statement added.
Interviewed at a conference in Denmark, German Interior Minister Otto Schily said Saturday he will ask for Binalshibh's extradition. Schily said he'd like to see him tried in Germany, where he was believed to be part of a Hamburg-based cell of hijackers that plotted the Sept. 11 attacks.
German Justice Minister Herta Daebler-Gmelin said German authorities will cooperate with other countries who may want custody of Binalshibh.
Should the United States seek to gain custody of Binalshibh, which seems likely, an extradition to Germany beforehand could raise serious legal snarls. Germany, like other European Union partners, customarily has refused to send prisoners in its custody to countries where they could face the death penalty.
Binalshibh was apprehended during the raid Wednesday -- the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- at an apartment house in an upscale neighborhood of this teeming city of more than 12 million.
Those in the apartment fired grenades and automatic weapons at police, triggering a four-hour gunbattle which left two of the Islamic militants dead and seven policemen wounded.
A senior army officer said he visited the interrogation center Saturday where at least some of the captives were being held. He said he saw two of them, but he did not identify them.
Security was tight, and visitors had to surrender mobile phones and other communications devices as they entered, he said on condition of anonymity. Officials refused to give the nationalities of those arrested or killed.
However, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was in the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly debate, said on Friday that one Egyptian, one Saudi and eight Yemenis were arrested in connection with the raid.
Binalshibh, 30, was born in Yemen. A correspondent for the Gulf-based Al-Jazeera satellite station claimed to have interviewed him and another top suspect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in Karachi three months ago. The interview was broadcast this week.
On Saturday, an Arabic language Web site that focuses on developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan issued a statement on the apparent arrest of Binalshibh, implying that it may have been linked to the Al-Jazeera interview.
"The arrest of Binalshibh, who is also wanted by German intelligence, came a few days after an interview ... on Al-Jazeera was broadcast," the statement said. "We would like to indicate that if, God forbid, this news is correct, this means there was a kind of treason that caused brother Ramzi to fall into the hands of those infidels, which requires a warning to all brothers."
Meanwhile, police officials said nine more suspects were rounded up Friday from two separate places in Karachi and may be linked to those captured Wednesday. No further information on them was released.
Karachi has an active Islamic militant community, and it had long been assumed that many Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists sought refuge there after the hardline Islamic regime collapsed last year.
Headmasters of several Islamic religious schools -- or madrassas -- have said publicly they would refuse to turn over any Al Qaeda or Taliban members who asked them for sanctuary.
The Interior Ministry said earlier this week more than 400 Al Qaeda suspects had been captured on Pakistani territory. Most were turned over to U.S. authorities.