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Arrests highlight al Qaeda's info flow

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

(CNN) -- Recent arrests have exposed an intricate web of al Qaeda contacts in which the terror network's operational information flowed among Pakistan, Britain and the United States.

Pakistani intelligence sources said the information flow centered around four key al Qaeda operatives, three of whom are now in custody. Those suspects have been identified as:

  • Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan: A suspected al Qaeda computer expert who was apprehended in mid-July in Pakistan. Within al Qaeda, the sources said, he was known by the name Abu Talha.
  • Esa al-Hindi: Arrested in Britain earlier this week in a roundup of suspected al Qaeda suspects, he is believed to be a senior leader of al Qaeda. U.S. government officials have described him as a "major player" who moved operational information between key components.
  • Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani: A Tanzanian arrested in Pakistan last week who was on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list with a $5 million bounty for his alleged role in the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. (Full story)
  • Abu Hamza: Pakistani government officials believe Hamza, an Egyptian who uses at least eight aliases, is one of the main al Qaeda organizers in Pakistan. He escaped arrest last week in Punjab when Ghailani was apprehended, the officials said. (This is a different Abu Hamza from the fiery British cleric who CNN has reported on in the past.)
  • These four men worked closely together on different projects and Hamza was a close associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Pakistani sources said.

    The four men held a meeting in Lahore, Pakistan, just three months ago, according to the sources.

    They said photographs of London's Heathrow Airport were found on Ghailani's computer as a potential terror target and that al Qaeda was planning to hit airports in Nairobi, Kenya, and Katmandu, Nepal -- both of which have heavy tourism traffic.

    These sources said Ghailani also was a computer expert and that intelligence officials found a long list of words used by him and Khan as code words.

    In addition, al Qaeda counted on Ghailani to forge passports, the sources said. Authorities have found more than 50 scanned Pakistani national ID cards on his computer, they said.

    This is the first time authorities have provided such detail on Ghailani.

    Previously, authorities described Khan as a computer expert whose arrest led to the elevated terror threat level around key financial institutions in three U.S. cities.

    A computer seized from Khan contained hundreds of images, including photographs, drawings and layouts of various potential U.S. targets, a senior U.S. military official told CNN.

    Some images showed underground garages, leading to the conclusion these areas had been under surveillance. But the information did not include details of any specific plot.

    CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

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