A French national suspected of being a key al-Qaida operative and having ties to a mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks has been captured by Pakistani security forces, a senior Pakistani security official said Wednesday.
Naamen Meziche was seized outside the southwestern city of Quetta in the volatile province of Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, said the security official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on such matters. The official said Meziche's capture was "fairly recent," but he declined to be more specific.
The arrest of Meziche underscores the role that Pakistan plays in the battle against al-Qaida, despite the steady deterioration in relations with Washington over the last year.
Ties between the United States and Pakistan have been extremely tense since November, when U.S. military helicopters mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.
Meziche was trying to escape to Somalia when he was captured, the official said. He was a close associate of Younis al-Mauritani, a top al-Qaida commander who was captured by Pakistan's main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, last fall in Quetta. The security official said Mauritani met Meziche in 2010 and asked him to help with al-Qaida's foreign operations.
At the time, U.S. officials called Mauritani's arrest a major victory against al-Qaida and said he played a central role in coordinating the terrorist network's operations in Europe. Pakistani security officials said Mauritani had been planning attacks on various U.S. economic targets, including gas and oil pipelines and hydroelectric dams. He also had been plotting to target American ships and oil tankers with speedboats filled with explosives, they said.
Information gleaned from the interrogation of Mauritani led to Meziche's capture, the security official said.
Articles published in 2010 in the Wall Street Journal and the German magazine Der Spiegel described Meziche as a longtime Islamic extremist based in Hamburg, Germany, who left Europe in 2009 to undergo jihadist training in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal report stated that Meziche was friends with Mohamed Atta, one of the engineers of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. and the man who piloted one of the passenger jets into the World Trade Center. Meziche has never been directly linked with the 9/1 1 attacks.
Meziche's capture deals another blow to al-Qaida, which had been severely hampered by the CIA's drone missile campaign on militant strongholds in Pakistan's tribal belt along the Afghan border.