THE capture of a supposed Al-Qaeda kingpin by Pakistani agents last week was hailed by President George W Bush as "a critical victory in the war on terror". According to European intelligence experts, however, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not the terrorists' third in command, as claimed, but a middle-ranker derided by one source as "among the flotsam and jetsam" of the organization.Is it just more spin or just more ignorant confusion?
Al-Libbi's arrest in Pakistan, announced last Wednesday, was described in the United States as "a major breakthrough" in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
Bush called him a "top general" and "a major facilitator and chief planner for the Al- Qaeda network". Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, said he was "a very important figure". Yet the backslapping in Washington and Islamabad has astonished European terrorism experts, who point out that the Libyan was neither on the FBI's most wanted list, nor on that of the State Department "rewards for justice" programme.
Another Libyan is on the FBI list - Anas al-Liby, who is wanted over the 1998 East African embassy bombings - and some believe the Americans may have initially confused the two. When The Sunday Times contacted a senior FBI counter-terrorism official for information about the importance of the detained man, he sent material on al-Liby, the wrong man.Importance hyped as a cover for failure?
Some believe al-Libbi's significance has been cynically hyped by two countries that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing Bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years.In all probability it is both a example of spin and a case of incompetence.