WASHINGTON -- Authorities in Pakistan have captured a suspected Al Qaeda operative believed to have played a role in plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States as well as subsequent bombings in Spain and England, US officials said yesterday.
Several US counterterrorism officials said that one of the men arrested in a recent raid in Quetta is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, 47, a Syrian also known as Abu Musab al-Suri or Abu Musab the Syrian.
Nasar is also wanted in Spain, and is believed by authorities there and in Washington to have been a leading figure in Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network in Europe before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Three US officials confirmed Nasar's arrest but spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to publicly discuss the operation in the capital of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province.
They said only that Nasar had been captured within the past several weeks, and that details of his arrest were being withheld so Pakistani and US intelligence agents could take advantage of names, addresses, and other information found at the time of his capture.
The US officials said another suspected Qaeda terrorist was killed in the raid, and they quoted Pakistani authorities as saying that a third suspect, believed to be a member of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, also had been apprehended. The latter group has had close ties to Al Qaeda since at least the late 1990s.
US authorities last year established a $5 million reward for Nasar's capture, but they have not obtained an arrest warrant or indictment for him. Several US officials said yesterday that they would move quickly to try to participate in interrogations of Nasar.
''We'd like to get our hands on him," said one US counterterrorism official who was closely involved in the post-Sept. 11 investigation of a Qaeda cell in Spain that allegedly included Nasar.
He described Nasar as an important but mysterious link connecting the 19 suicide hijackers, alleged plot coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh, and others known and unknown who in July 2001 attended a meeting near Tarragona, Spain. It was there that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta is believed to have finalized his plans for the Sept. 11 attacks.
A US Justice Department website describes Nasar as a former trainer at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan who taught recruits how to use poisons and chemicals. US and European authorities suspect him of playing an organizational role in the March 11, 2004, mass-transit bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and the July 7 bus and subway bombings in London.
Several US authorities said yesterday they were also interested in learning more about Nasar's connections to Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the accused Syrian-Spanish boss of a Madrid Qaeda cell that was dismantled by Spanish authorities in 2001.
Barakat was the key defendant in Spain's recent trial of several dozen alleged Al Qaeda operatives, and one of only three accused of being accomplices to the Sept. 11 attacks. On Sept. 26, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for his contacts with Sept. 11 ringleader Atta.
Barakat was formally charged with arranging the July 2001 meeting with Atta, and of speaking in code to a militant in London about the attacks 15 days before they were carried out. The Spanish court ultimately ruled that Barakat ''was aware of the sinister plans of imminent execution."
Nasar's role in the meeting is less clear, but US officials believe he was connected not only to it, but also to Al Qaeda efforts to promote a worldwide jihad and recruit young European Muslims for the cause. Nasar and Barakat have maintained their innocence.