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'Taliban had plans to abduct Indian diplomats'

April 13, 2010 19:58 IST

Two deserters from a paramilitary force arrested for terror links have told Pakistani investigators that Taliban had specific plans to abduct Indian diplomats, including the high commissioner, to swap them for detained militant commanders.

The militants also had plans to target foreign missions, including the US consulate in Peshawar. The deposition by Noor Jahan Khan and Rehmat Gul, described as deserters from the Frontier Constabulary, set alarm bells ringing in the Pakistani security establishment, Western diplomatic and other sources told PTI.

During their interrogation, the two men said that militant groups, aligned to the Pakistani Taliban, had plans to abduct Indian diplomats, including the high commissioner, to exchange them for militant commanders who are currently in the custody of Pakistani authorities, the sources said.

Significantly, this disclosure was made before a group of six heavily armed Taliban militants attempted to storm the US consulate on April 5, killing three persons.The duo further told interrogators that the militants had plans to target Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his close relatives and to attack the Dhodak oilfield in Punjab province, the sources said.

Security agencies have taken the revelations by Khan and Gul "very seriously" in the wake of the attack on the US consulate, sources said. The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for that attack, one of the most audacious terrorist strikes witnessed in the country in the past few years.

It could not immediately be ascertained if the Pakistani authorities had alerted the Indian government about the threat to Indian diplomats. However, stringent security measures have been put in place in the Indian high commission and the high commissioner's residence over the past year. The six militants who carried out the attack on the US consulate in Peshawar exploded two suicide car bombs that damaged the outer security barrier but were unable to storm the compound.

Police in Islamabad announced the arrest of Khan and Gul on March 22. A suicide jacket was recovered from them. Khan's uniform was used by the militants to dodge security while transporting suicide vests to Islamabad, officials said. Khan and his accomplices carried out reconnaissance of several key installations in Islamabad. He was also linked to two suicide bombers who targeted the World Food Programme office and the naval headquarters in Islamabad last year.

A bomber clad in a Frontier Constabulary uniform had carried out the attack on the World Food Programme office in October last year, killing five persons, including an Iraqi national. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for that attack. Security agencies in Islamabad have also arrested three more Frontier Constabulary personnel – Naib Subedar Akbar Khan, Sepoy Abdur Rashid and Sepoy Rehmat – who served at the diplomatic enclave.

Despite concerns expressed by diplomats, especially from Western countries, the government is yet to implement a decision to replace Frontier Constabulary personnel in the diplomatic enclave with the Pakistan Rangers, sources said. Most of the personnel of the Frontier Constabulary are drawn from the NWFP and the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan – areas rife with Taliban militancy. Khan and Gul belonged to Aurakzai Agency, a volatile tribal region where Pakistani troops are currently conducting operations against militants.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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