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Pakistan Probes Suspects Arrested In Al-Qaeda Battle

Wana, Pakistan, 21 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan intelligence officials are today interrogating over 100 fighters arrested in the battle with Al-Qaeda suspects and their local tribal supporters near the frontier with Afghanistan.

Military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan told AFP news agency that military intelligence agencies are questioning Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, and local Pashtun tribesmen. They were arrested during four days of heavy fighting around suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan's northwest tribal territory.

The arrests of Central Asians and intercepted radio conversations in Chechen and Uzbek, have led Pakistani officials to believe the 500 diehard fighters cornered by troops in two villages in South Waziristan may be defending a Central Asian militant leader. The spokesman refused to speculate on his identity.

The "unparalleled" level of resistance put up by the fighters has also led some Pakistani officials to believe that Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was being protected.