ISLAMABAD, June 20 (Reuters) - Pakistan has captured an "important" al Qaeda leader in an operation near the Pakistan-Iran border, officials said on Wednesday, amid criticism from the United States the country was not doing enough to fight militancy.
U.S Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during a trip to Kabul that stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan would remain difficult as long as militants had safe havens in neighbouring Pakistan, and that Washington was "reaching the limits" of its patience with Islamabad.
Pakistani officials said the captured al Qaeda leader was Naamen Meziche, a French national of Algerian origin, who is believed to have links with militant groups based in Europe. Media reports say he may have played a role in the 9/11 attacks.
Meziche worked closely with another al Qaeda leader, Younis al-Mauritani, who was responsible for international operations, Pakistani officials said.
Mauritani was captured by Pakistani authorities in September last year.
Pakistan officials did not specify the time or location of the capture of Meziche, who they said was the ringleader of a group of 11 people who left Germany in 2009 to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials often describe Pakistan as an unreliable partner in the war on militancy and demand tougher action against militant groups, especially those based in Pakistan's volatile tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan says it will not allow any militant safe havens inside its territory, and that it will pursue its own strategy against militant groups.
(Reporting by Qasim Nauman; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Osama Bin Laden - May 1, 2012.
This April 1998 file photo shows exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was killed during a raid of his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by US forces. (AP Photo, File)
Ilyas Kashmiri - June 2, 2011
Kashmiri was Al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan. He was killed in a drone strike close to the town of Wana in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area. He was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused of a string of bloody attacks in Pakistan and India as well as aiding plots in the West. (Saeed Khan/AFP-Getty Images, file)
Atiyah Abd al-Rahman - August 22, 2011.
Al-Qaida's second in command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, was killed in a drone strike in Machi Khel village in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area. A Libyan national, al-Rahman never had the worldwide name recognition of Osama bin Laden or bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but al-Rahman was regarded as an instrumental figure in the terrorist organization, trusted by bin Laden to oversee al-Qaida's daily operations. (AP Photo/National Counterterrorism Center)
Abu Hafs Al-Shahri - Sept. 11, 2011.
Al-Qaida's chief of operations in Pakistan, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region. Al-Shahri worked closely with the Pakistani Taliban to carry out attacks inside Pakistan. (SITE Intel Group)
Anwar al-Awlaki - Sept. 30, 2011.
In this Monday, Nov. 8, 2010, file photo, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites. He was a key member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and was killed in a drone strike in the mountains of Yemen. The 40-year-old American-Yemeni cleric emerged as an enormously influential preacher among militants living in the West, with his English-language Internet sermons calling for jihad, or holy war, against the United States. He was in contact with the accused perpetrators of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 people, the 2010 car bomb attempt in New York's Times Square and the Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up an airliner heading to Detroit (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group, Dile)
Badr Mansoor - Feb. 9, 2012
Al-Qaida commander Badr Mansoor was killed in a drone strike in Miran Shah, the main town in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area. He was believed to be behind many of the suicide attacks that killed scores of Pakistani civilians in recent years. Mansoor was from Pakistan's largest province, Punjab, and moved to North Waziristan in 2008, where he led a faction of more than 200 fighters. (AFP/Getty Images)
Abu Yahia al-Libi - June 4, 2012.
This March 25, 2007, file image, made from video posted on a website frequented by Islamist militants and provided via the IntelCenter, shows Al-Qaida's second in command Abu Yahya al-Libi. He was killed in a drone strike in the Pakistani village of Khassu Khel in the North Waziristan tribal area, according to the White House. Al-Libi was considered a charismatic, media-savvy leader who helped preside over the transformation of al-Qaida into a terror movement aimed at winning converts around the world. (AP Photo/IntelCenter, File)