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Pakistan has arrested a French man accused of being a prominent al-Qaeda militant, a reminder of the country's vital role in the war on international jihadist groups at a time of deteriorating relations with the US, security forces said Wednesday.
Naamen Meziche was captured in a raid near the border with Iran, officials said, without specifying when this had happened. Western media reports have described Meziche as an al-Qaeda operative with links to European jihadi groups believed to have been living until now in either Pakistan or Iran.
The officials did not give their names in keeping with the policy of the Pakistani security forces.
The officials said Meziche was a close associate of Younis al-Mauritani, who Pakistani security forces arrested in September last year in a joint operation with the CIA. That arrest also took place in Baluchistan, which borders Iran. US officials said Mauritani was believed to have been plotting attacks in Europe. It is unclear where al-Mauritani is now being held.
Baluchistan borders Afghanistan to the north-east and has been a hotbed of militant activity.
Pakistani intelligence agents are currently questioning the French national.
The arrest highlights the Pakistani security forces' key role in the anti-al-Qaeda campaign, even as the US and Pakistan are going through one of the rockiest stages in their relationship since the September 11 attacks in the US. The Navy SEAL raid on the Pakistan garrison city of Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden last year raised questions about whether Pakistani security officials at some level knew of the al-Qaeda leader's presence in their country. On the Pakistani side, the raid infuriated the military because it was not told about the attack ahead of time and once it happened, was powerless to stop it.
Tensions increased even further in November when US forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani border troops, prompting Pakistan to close supply lines to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Those supply lines remain closed to this day as Pakistan demands an apology from the US for the deaths. - Sapa-AP