WASHINGTON – An al-Qaida suspect captured in Britain helped select and surveil major U.S. financial sites as potential terror targets and shared that data with Osama Bin Laden’s henchmen in Pakistan, counterterror sources said Thursday.

Abu Eisa Al Hindi was among 12 suspects rolled up by British anti-terror police on Tuesday.

He was described Thursday as an al-Qaida operative “engaged in planning (terror) operations and targeting sites,” one counterterrorism source said.

His capture came after an al-Qaida computer whiz was apprehended in Pakistan and his computer files revealed detailed reconnaissance dating to 2000 and 2001 of five financial institutions in the United States.

“Hindi is suspected of contributing to the surveillance reports,” said the counterterror source. Many of the surveillance files were shared with Hindi or created by him, sources said.

“People are collecting (target surveillance) and people are sharing, which contributes to the sense of concern,” one source said.

Terrorist hunters also got the unnerving news Thursday that “chatter” – intercepts of communications between terrorists – has dropped in recent days. Such chatter went silent before al-Qaida’s October 2000 Cole bombing and six weeks prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, suggesting plans were finalized.

“That’s the worry,” said a second counterterrorism source. “We’ve had indications of an event planned between now and the elections. It was the dated stuff that gave us the only real indications of where.”

The discovery of detailed reconnaissance of the financial centers – including photos, maps, escape routes and the locations of nearby fire and police stations – prompted Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to declare an Orange Alert for those buildings last weekend.

They included the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup Center in Manhattan, the Prudential Building in Newark, N.J., and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington. All five buildings and the blocks surrounding them are under heavy guard.

One of Hindi’s main contacts was Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, the computer whiz nabbed in Pakistan last month. His capture led to a string of busts in Pakistan and Britain.

Pakistani officials said they found images of London’s Heathrow Airport on Khan’s computers and the information was passed to British officials.

Hindi and Khan are tied to top echelons of “al-Qaida central,” sources said. U.S. intelligence played a key role in finding Hindi.

British police also said Thursday they had arrested Babar Ahmad, who is wanted on terrorism charges by federal authorities in Connecticut.

Ahmad, 30, is accused of trying to raise money for “acts of terrorism in Chechnya and Afghanistan” from 1998 through 2003, according to the U.S. extradition warrant.

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