New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shows US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) the World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial in New York.—Reuters

NEW YORK: Pakistan's capture of a senior al-Qaeda figure is an “encouraging” sign that Islamabad is ready to bolster its cooperation with US counter-terrorism efforts, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday.

“I think it's a tribute to the Pakistanis who worked with us in this effort,” Panetta told reporters in a visit to New York City to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The former CIA director spoke after the Pakistani army announced it had detained al-Qaeda senior leader Younis al-Mauritani in Quetta along with two other high-ranking operatives after US and Pakistani spy agencies joined forces.

Although there had been “similar operations in the past,” Mauritani was seen as a powerful figure who was plotting attacks on the United States, Panetta said.

The detention was the latest blow to al-Qaeda's leadership, which Panetta said had suffered major setbacks.

While acknowledging Washington's uneasy relationship with Islamabad, which came under strain after a US raid in May that killed al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani hideout, Panetta said the capture of Mauritani offered grounds for optimism.

“It's an encouraging sign, that we've gotten the Pakistanis to work with us in this kind of effort,” he said.

“As you know we've had kind of a rocky relationship of late. But we have continued to urge the Pakistanis particularly to work with us in going after some key terrorist targets.

“This is an indication that they are cooperating with us in that effort, and I think that's a good sign.”

He also suggested US interrogators likely would be given a chance to question Mauritani.

“I assume that we will work with the Pakistanis to try to obtain access” to the al-Qaeada militant, he said.

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