Pakistan Police Arrest 5 in Sweep
%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:KAR106-091902; AUDIO:%)
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani police, working with FBI investigators, arrested five men and accused them of links to an al-Qaida-backed group that has targeted foreigners, churches and American fast food chains, a senior police official said Thursday.
Among those arrested was the owner of a soft drinks and ice cream shop in Karachi, identified only as Masood, who allegedly stored weapons and sheltered members of the militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen Al-Almi, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Four suspected associates of Masood were taken into custody in the overnight raids on their homes in three Karachi neighborhoods.
It was the latest in a series of arrests that Pakistani leaders claim broke the back of Al-Almi, a domestic terror group that arose in Pakistan in response to President Pervez Musharraf’s crackdown against Islamic extremists.
The successes against Al-Almi coincide with a breakthrough last week against Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network. Karachi police and intelligence agents, using information gathered by the FBI, arrested about a dozen al-Qaida suspects, including Ramzi Binalshibh, believed to be a key organizer of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Another Yemeni arrested with Binalshibh was identified as one of the killers of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped Jan. 23. Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said some of the Al-Almi detainees caught this week may have also been involved with Pearl’s killers.
Binalshibh and four others were handed over to U.S. custody Monday and flown out of the country. The arrests prompted Musharraf to declare that security forces ``have broken the terrorist network″ in Pakistan.
Haider said the government has nearly 20 people in custody involved with Al-Almi, which was believed responsible for a surge of deadly operations against foreigners this year.
Pakistan, Haider said, ``is taking all possible measures to eliminate terrorism from the country.″
Haider said American agencies were providing ``technical assistance″ to help track down the suspects, but stressed that the arrests were conducted by Pakistani law enforcement.
The Al-Almi group has been blamed for a suicide car bomb in May that killed 11 French engineers and three Pakistanis, including the bomber. It was also allegedly behind a June bombing outside the U.S. consulate that killed 14 Pakistanis, and aborted attacks against U.S.-based restaurants McDonald’s and KFC in the city.
Police also accuse Al-Almi of planning assassination attempts against Musharraf on two successive days in April.
On Wednesday, the government announced it had captured a man known as Sharib. Officials initially said he was believed to have masterminded the May car bombing, the worst single act of terrorism against foreigners this year, but on Thursday, provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah said there was no evidence of his involvement in that attack.
Shah said Sharib was believed involved in the U.S. consulate bombing, and that he had personally driven an explosive laden vehicle in one of the unsuccessful attempts on Musharraf’s life in April.
Musharraf says the crackdown has brought results, since there have been no serious attacks in Pakistan in more than two months.
``All the first-string operators are behind bars except a very very few,″ he said in an interview last week with The Associated Press.
Al-Almi is an offshoot of the Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, one of the major groups fighting India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. International intelligence agencies say it is trained and supported by al-Qaida.