In a joint operation with the U.S. secret service agency, CIA, Pakistan Army arrested Sheikh Younis al-Mauritani, a senior al-Qaida leader and Osama bin Laden confidant, the Pakistan army said Monday.
Mauritani was tasked personally by Osama bin Laden with hitting targets of economical importance in the U.S., Europe and Australia, the military statement added.
Mauritani was arrested with two other al-Qaida operatives -- Abdul Ghaffar Al Shami (Bachar Chama) and Messara Al Shami (Mujahid Amino) -- in the city of Quetta near the Afghan border, the military said without giving a date.
''Countries like Australia, which are US allies, are also his target, but there is no specific information on Australia now. I hope, in the next three or four days, we can get more information, like their target plans,'' Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Mehmood, spokesman of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence told Sydney Morning Herald.
The trio was caught just before they were to set off for an African destination from which they were to execute attacks on U.S. targets, including strikes on ships and oil tankers, with the help of explosive-laden speedboats in international waters, the newspaper Dawn reported.
The U.S. has said it doesn't know of any specific al-Qaida plot to attack the U.S. ahead of Sept. 11.
The arrests came as the third biggest blow to the terrorist group after the killings of Osama bin Laden on May 2 and second in command Atiyah Abd al-Rahman on Aug. 22.
This operation was planned and conducted with technical assistance of the United State 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 Associated Press quoted a military statement in its report.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in July said that al-Qaida was close to defeat, but that the U.S. needed several more successful attacks to take out the last remaining key leaders.
Among the 10 to 20 al-Qaida leaders remaining at large is Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who succeeded bin Laden. The U.S. believes he is hiding in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border.
Zawahiri is one of those we would like to see the Pakistanis target, along with our help, Panetta said.