ISLAMABAD: A French militant described as an Al-Qaeda leader and a member of the German terror cell linked to the 9/11 attacks has been held in Pakistan, experts and a Pakistani official said Wednesday.
Naamen Meziche was detained after disclosures by Younis al-Mauritani, apparently tasked by Osama bin Laden to plot attacks on Australia, Europe and the US and captured in Pakistan last year, the security official told AFP.
Born in 1970 and of Algerian descent, experts say Meziche is an "important" Al-Qaeda member in Europe and belonged to the Hamburg cell that the US says masterminded the 9/11 attacks.
He reportedly recruited jihadists at a notorious mosque in the northern German city, which authorities closed in 2010 for breeding fanatics.
Three of the 9/11 hijackers, including their ringleader Mohammed Atta, who piloted the first plane into New York's World Trade Center, met regularly at the mosque before moving to the United States.
A terrorism expert in Paris confirmed that Meziche was linked to Al-Qaeda, and said he had left Europe and moved to the border areas between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan several years ago.
The Pakistani official said Meziche was "among the very close associates" of Mauritani, but declined to say whether he was wanted in connection with a specific plot.
Neither Meziche nor Mauritani feature on the US FBI list of most wanted terrorists.
The Pakistani official said Maziche was arrested by "intelligence agencies" close to the Iranian border, but did not say when or whether Western agents took part in the raid.
On September 5, Pakistani agents cooperating with the CIA arrested Mauritani, believed to have been instructed by the late bin Laden to plan attacks on Australia, Europe and the United States.
He was detained with two other operatives in the suburbs of Quetta, the main city in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province that borders Iran.
The Pakistani official said Mauritani told interrogators that Meziche had entered Pakistan from Iran and intended to travel on to Africa.
"The intelligence agencies have been tracking Maziche since then, and at last, after a successful operation he was arrested. At the moment he is being questioned about his purpose for entering Pakistan," the official said.
Meziche was reportedly questioned numerous times in Germany but never indicted.
There were also reports that Meziche was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan's militant stronghold of North Waziristan on April 10, 2010.