An al-Qaida man captured last week and accused of plotting attacks against Australia may have had his role overstated by Pakistani authorities desperate to win the approval of the US, a local terrorism expert said.
The Pakistani army arrested Younis al-Mauritani in Quetta with two other high-ranking operatives and accused them of plotting attacks against Australia, Europe and the US.
“In an intelligence-driven operation by Inter-Services Intelligence in co-ordination with Frontier Corps Baluchistan, a senior al-Qaida leader, Younis al-Mauritani, mainly responsible for planning and conduct of international operations, was nabbed,” a Pakistani army statement said.
It named the others as Abdul Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami.
But none of them are featured on the FBI’s website of wanted terrorists or the US Treasury Department’s list of global terrorists.
According to Pakistan’s army, Mauritani was instructed by Osama bin Laden to focus on economic targets in Australia, the US and Europe.
But Australian National University terrorism expert Prof Clive Williams said there had been no threats against Australia by foreign terrorists since 2004.
“I’ve never heard of this man. It might be he has been picked up by Pakistani[s] keen to show they are co-operating after bin Laden’s death,” Prof Williams said.
A grainy black and white photograph released by the army shows the al-Qaida operative with short dark hair, a slim face and neatly trimmed moustache and beard.
The Pakistani army said: “He was planning to target US economic interests including gas/oil pipelines, power generating dams and strike ships/oil tankers through explosive-laden speed boats in international waters.”
A White House spokesman praised the operation.
“We applaud the actions of Pakistan’s intelligence and security services that led to the capture of a senior al-Qaida operative who was involved in planning attacks against the interests of the US and many other countries,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington.
Western intelligence officials from two countries confirmed Mauritani was part of al-Qaida’s top team and linked to threats against Europe.
Good, but not great?
“If it’s confirmed, it’s a good catch,” said one Western intelligence source.