ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A battered al-Qaida suffered another significant blow when Pakistani agents working with the CIA arrested a senior leader believed to have been tasked by Osama bin Laden with targeting U.S. economic interests around the globe, Pakistan announced Monday.
Younis al-Mauritani's arrest — made public six days before the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — also points to better cooperation between two uneasy antiterror allies after the rancor surrounding bin Laden's killing.
Al-Qaida has seen its senior ranks thinned since bin Laden was killed May 2 in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs in Pakistan without the knowledge of local authorities. Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the terror group's No. 2, was killed in a CIA missile strike last month.
Pakistan's unusual public announcement of close cooperation with the U.S. spy agency appeared aimed at reversing the perception that ties between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency had been badly damaged by bin Laden's death: The Pakistanis accused the Americans of violating their sovereignty with the raid, while Washington was angry that the terror leader had been found in a house in a military garrison town.
The Pakistani military said the arrest of al-Mauritani and two other al-Qaida operatives, Abdul-Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami, took place near the Afghan border in the southwestern city of Quetta, long known as a base for militants. It did not say when they were arrested.
The capture of an al-Qaida operative inside Pakistan has become rare in recent years: Most targets of CIA operations have been killed by drone aircraft in a series of operations that started to increase in 2008.
His capture is likely to create chaos within al-Qaida: Even if he does not reveal compromising information, that possibility is almost certain to force the network to alter plans, move operatives and make other sudden changes, damaging its ability to carry out attacks.
Al-Qaida's center of operations is believed to be in the lawless tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, many hours from Quetta, a city that is home to both the Taliban's ruling council and a large Pakistani military presence.
The statement said al-Mauritani was mainly responsible for al-Qaida's international operations and was tasked by bin Laden with hitting targets of economic importance in the United States, Europe and Australia. It said he was planning attacks on gas and oil pipelines, power-generating dams and oil tankers that would be hit by explosive-laden speed boats in international waters.
The United States has said it does not know of any specific al-Qaida plot ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Michael Vickers, the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the New York Times in a recent interview that there were perhaps four important al-Qaida leaders left in Pakistan, and 10 to 20 leaders overall in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.