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Al Qaeda arrests 'averted attack'

Official: Attash 'will know future al Qaeda plans'

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KARACHI, Pakistan (CNN) -- A group of al Qaeda suspects arrested in Pakistan earlier this week were planning an attack on the U.S. consulate and other government installations in Karachi, according to a senior official.

Alleged top al Qaeda operative Whalid ba Attash, also known as Tawfiq bin Attash or Khallad, was arrested along with five other suspected al Qaeda members in a police raid in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan's Information Ministry said.

Pakistani authorities identified Attash as a Yemeni national and said his arrest averted a "major terrorist attack."

Police found 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of high explosives and a large quantity of guns and ammunition when he was arrested, the Information Ministry said Wednesday.

U.S. officials also believe Attash was the mastermind of the bombing of an American navy ship the USS Cole in October 2000, an act which killed 17 U.S. sailors.

One U.S. official said Attash -- believed to have been a bodyguard to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- "will know about future al Qaeda plans."

Attash is thought to be "very close" to bin Laden and served as an intermediary between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and some of the hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Khalid is considered to be the mastermind behind the September 11 plot.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday hailed Attash's arrest as a "major, significant find" in the war against terrorism.

"He's a killer. He was one of the top al Qaeda operatives," Bush said at the White House. "He was right below Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on the organizational chart of al Qaeda. He is one less person that people who love freedom have to worry about."

Bush also praised Pakistan for its role in apprehending Attash and said the coalition is winning the war on terror.

"When al Qaeda came and killed Americans, there was only one way to deal with them: That was to hunt them down, find them and bring them to justice," Bush said. "The war goes on."

The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and Pennsylvania killed more than 3,000 people and triggered the U.S.-led war to oust al Qaeda from Afghanistan, where Attash is believed to have lost a leg in combat.

No U.S. officials were present at the time of his capture, though officials in Washington said U.S. intelligence provided "information that may have been helpful" in the operation.

-- CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and Producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.


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