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Top Al Qaeda man held in Pak

June 14, 2004 17:13 IST

Pakistan said Monday a nephew of top Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and eight members of a new militant group were behind a bid to kill a senior general and a double car bomb attack in the southern port of Karachi.

The nine were among 11 militants arrested in Karachi at the weekend. The operation came as Pakistani fighter jets and helicopter gunships bombed an Al-Qaeda training camp near the northwest border with Afghanistan.

At least 74 people, including 55 militants, 16 soldiers and three civilians, have been killed in the fresh offensive on the training camp and hideouts close to Shakai near the South Waziristan capital Wana since last week.

Southern Sindh province's police chief Kamal Shah identified the new terror organisation as Jund Allah, meaning "God's Brigade," and said its members had trained at an Al-Qaeda camp near Wana. It was not clear whether the camp was the same as that targetted in air raids.

The nephew of Mohammad, one of the chief planners of the September 11, 2001 attacks who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003, was identified as Musabir Urumchi but his nationality was unclear.

He was handed over to an unnamed intelligence agency while the Jund Allah members were produced before an anti-terrorism court Monday and remanded in custody for another fortnight.

"The Jund Allah group is a new terror group which has links with Al-Qaeda, and their members have been trained in Wana," Shah told reporters.

The Pakistani military meanwhile said ground forces were Monday consolidating positions around Shakai after the weekend airstrikes. "The forces are consolidating positions, more troops are moving in," military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan told AFP.

Sultan said the government would resume a "political process" orginally launched in April after winding down an earlier offensive at the end of March. That process, involving protracted consultations with local tribal leaders and hunts by armed tribesmen for foreign militants, has so far failed to persuade the fighters to register with local authorities in return for being allowed to stay in the area.

Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat trumpeted the weekend arrests as a "major breakthrough" in Pakistan's bid to stamp out Al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants.

"This is breaking the back of the Al-Qaeda-linked network in Pakistan," Hayat said Sunday.

Police accused the Jund Allah members of the failed attempt to kill Karachi's army commander Lieutenant General Ahsan Saleem on June 10 and the May 26 double car bomb attack near the US consul-general's residence, which killed one policeman and injured more than 10 others.

But outside the court the group's leader Attaur Rehman told reporters that he had "admitted nothing."

The attack on the general's convoy and the twin car bomb attack were among six deadly strikes in Karachi since May 7.

More than 60 people died in the combined attacks and sectarian riots, triggered by the bombings of several mosques and the assassination of a senior Sunni Muslim cleric.

Rehman told interrogators the Jund Allah militants were targetting Westerners, foreign missions, army and police officers to avenge the government's campaign to eradicate Al-Qaeda-linked fighters from its northwest border regions, Shah said.

"You have sold your pride and honour to please the Americans and we will take revenge from you and your masters," chief police investigator Fayyaz Leghari quoted Rehman as saying.

Authorities are now on alert for retaliatory attacks.

Three members of outlawed but highly active Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were also arrested, two in Karachi and one in the southwest province Baluchistan's capital city Quetta.

They were suspected of involvement in the Shiite mosque attacks in Karachi and two other suicide attacks on Shiite mosques in Quetta in March this year and July last year, officials said.

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