Pakistani intelligence officers working with the CIA arrested three members of Al Qaeda, including a top operative believed to have been tasked by Usama bin Laden with targeting American economic interests around the world, Fox News confirms.
Younis al-Mauritani's arrest -- made public five days before the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks -- was seen as a blow to Al Qaeda's central leadership in Pakistan, further degrading its ability to mount terrorist attacks abroad. The terrorist organization has seen its senior ranks thinned since Usama bin Laden was killed May 2 along with Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the group's No.2, in a CIA missile strike last month.
A U.S. official described al-Mauritani to Fox News as a "seasoned, senior operative trusted by the group's top leaders."
"He played an absolutely central role in planning and coordinating Al Qaeda's operations in Europe, plots that targeted both European and American interests," the official said.
The public announcement of close cooperation with the CIA appeared aimed at reversing the widespread perception that ties between U.S. intelligence and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency had been badly damaged by the U.S. killing of bin Laden inside Pakistan.
The Pakistani military said the arrests took place near the Afghan border in the southwestern city of Quetta, long known as a base for militants. It did not say when.
The capture of an Al Qaeda militant inside Pakistan has become rare in recent years: most targets of CIA operations in the country have been killed by drone aircraft in a relentless series of operations launched in 2008.
"This operation was planned and conducted with technical assistance of United States Intelligence Agencies with whom Inter-Services Intelligence has a strong, historic intelligence relationship. Both Pakistan and United States Intelligence agencies continue to work closely together to enhance security of their respective nations," the military said in a written statement.
The statement said al-Mauritani was mainly responsible for Al Qaeda's international operations and was tasked by bin Laden with hitting targets of economic importance in America, Europe and Australia. It said he was planning to target U.S. economic interests including gas and oil pipelines, power generating dams and oil tankers by using explosive-laden speed boats in international waters.
It named the other two detainees as Abdul-Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest also commended the capture, saying in a statement that "This is an example of the longstanding partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan in fighting terrorism, which has taken many terrorists off the battlefield over the past decade."
"We applaud the actions of Pakistan's intelligence and security services that led to the capture of a senior Al Qaeda operative who was involved in planning attacks against the interests of the United States and many other countries," Earnest said.
The U.S. has said it doesn't know of any specific Al Qaeda plot to attack the U.S. ahead of Sept. 11.
Since the 2001 attacks, Pakistan's spy agency has cooperated with the CIA to arrest scores of Al Qaeda suspects, most of whom were handed over to the United States.
Many top Al Qaeda commanders are still believed to live in Pakistan, and getting Islamabad's cooperation in cracking down on the network has been a top American goal since 2001. But there have been persistent suspicions that the country was protecting militants. The fact that bin Laden was killed in an army town close to the capital, Islamabad, led to fresh doubts over Pakistan's commitment.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.