Pakistani Cops Nab 3 Al-Qaida Suspects
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani police and FBI agents _ acting after a month of surveillance _ stormed a house on the outskirts of Pakistan’s largest city Thursday, arresting three suspected al-Qaida operatives in a hail of gunfire and grenades.
Police said at least two foreigners, both apparently of Middle Eastern origin and suspected of being linked to Osama bin Laden’s terror network, were among nine people arrested. It was the third major arrest of terrorism suspects in Karachi in less than a month.
``Three suspected al-Qaida men, including two foreigners, are now in our custody,″ said Aslam Sanjrani, the top law enforcement official in the southern province of Sindh. He said it was unclear whether they were high-level members of al-Qaida.
Six other people, including a woman and a child who apparently lived in the home, also were taken into custody, police said.
The suspects’ names were not released.
Intelligence officials say Karachi _ the site of a series of attacks on foreigners last year _ has become a haven for al-Qaida members who fled U.S. operations in neighboring Afghanistan.
``Karachi is Pakistan’s biggest city. Therefore, al-Qaida men prefer to take refuge in that city,″ said Iftihar Ahmad, an Interior Ministry spokesman. He cautioned, however, against concluding that al-Qaida’s network had reassembled in Karachi.
``Some trained al-Qaida men have crossed over to Pakistan from Afghanistan,″ he said. ``Our security agencies have been chasing them. ... Whenever we receive information about them, we try to arrest them.″
Authorities said they had received a tip about the house and had been watching it for a month. Witnesses said security agents moved in before dawn Thursday. Federal officials said the raid was led by paramilitary rangers.
The suspects fought back with a fusillade of gunfire and grenades, police said.
Mohammed Omar, a university student who saw the raid, said police opened fire on a wall of the house’s second floor. Three cars with tinted glass waited outside as officers entered and removed the suspects, Omar said.
Sanjrani said at least one suspect escaped, but police believe the man was injured in the shootout. Authorities were searching for him.
Ghafoor Ahmed, deputy chief of the conservative religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, said the house belonged to Sabiha Shahid, a member of the party’s executive council.
He said her husband and four of their children _ an adult son and daughter, a teenage boy and an adopted infant _ were taken away, as was her nephew and a maid. Shahid was not at home, said Ahmed, who denounced the raid.
Ahmed said the family lived on the ground floor, and the two foreigners were renting the house’s upper level. It was unclear if the family and the two men were connected in any other way _ or who the third al-Qaida suspect might be.
``Those who have been picked up on suspicion of links with al-Qaida should be produced in court and given full right of defense,″ Ahmed said. Pakistan’s government, he said, ``has compromised the sovereignty of the country and handed all power to the FBI.″
The raided house is less than a half-mile from the spot where authorities found the remains of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, abducted and slain last year while researching a story about Islamic militants.
Pakistan has been a leading ally in the U.S. effort to find al-Qaida fugitives. More than 400 suspected al-Qaida members have been arrested in Pakistan and surrendered to U.S. authorities.
Ahmad, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said some al-Qaida members may still be holed up in Karachi.
``These al-Qaida men are not part of any organized network,″ Ahmad said. ``They are, in fact, on the run and cannot hide for a long time.″