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Al-Qaeda computer whizz was top terror planner

Date: August 04, 2004

ISLAMABAD : The Pakistani Al-Qaeda computer expert captured last month was one of the terror network's top planners with a five million dollar bounty on his head and had plotted to attack London's Heathrow airport, a senior security official said.

Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, 25, alias Abu Talha, arrested in the eastern city of Lahore on July 12, "is in the top hierarchy of Al-Qaeda's external operations wing," a security official closely involved in Pakistan's latest Al-Qaeda swoop told AFP.

Khan had not only been creating websites and secret email codes for Al-Qaeda operatives to communicate with each other, he had also actively plotted terror attacks, the official said on condition of anonymity.

"He was involved in planning for attacks at Heathrow airport London some time ago and was wanted by US government," the official said, but was unable to say exactly when the Heathrow attack was planned.

The United States authorities had offered a five million dollar reward for his capture, he added.

Khan is one of at least 18 Al-Qaeda suspects swept up by Pakistani security forces since July 12, along with a key suspect in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, two South Africans and a Nigerian who was carrying coded messages.

US officials have said the information yielded in the capture of Khan and fellow Al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan led to the heightened terror alerts in New York, Newark and Washington.

The information included recently updated surveillance records of key financial institutions in those cities, photos, maps, and coded emails.

The African cell and around a dozen Pakistani supporters, who assisted with logistics for a fee of 200 dollars a month, were all captured in crowded cities in eastern Pakistan, far from the Al-Qaeda hideouts in the remote northwest tribal zone where most of the hunt for the militants has been focussed since late 2001.

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