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Pakistan: Al-Qaeda Suspects With Links To Uzbek Militants Arrested

Pakistan says it has arrested a leading Al-Qaeda member along with at least eight foreign militants -- including some from Central Asia. Their previously unknown extremist group is being linked to Uzbek militants near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Prague, 14 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Authorities in Islamabad say they have arrested the nephew of a top former Al-Qaeda planner along with eight other Islamic militants suspected of carrying out recent attacks across southern Pakistan.

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad says the arrest of Musaad Aruchi, the nephew of a suspected mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, is a major breakthrough. Aruchi is thought to have become increasingly involved in Al-Qaeda activities since his uncle was arrested in Pakistan last year.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said the arrests have "broken the back" of Al-Qaeda. "Our security agencies have made phenomenal inroads and we've achieved a tremendous success in the operations being conducted against the terrorists involved in acts of violence all over the country, in particular, an attack on a [Pakistan Army] corps commander's convoy last week in Karachi," Hayat said.
Badini reportedly is related by marriage to Al-Qaeda member Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Another of the detainees has been identified as Daoud Badini -- leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. That group has been implicated in a series of attacks against Christians in Pakistan. Badini also was wanted for several attacks against Shi'a Muslims in the past year that killed nearly 100 people -- including a deadly assault last July on a Shi'a shrine in Quetta.

Badini reportedly is related by marriage to Al-Qaeda member Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Authorities in Islamabad have refused to disclose specific nationalities of the other detainees. Ahmad says some are from Central Asia and are members of a previously unknown terrorist group that is now thought to have ties with Uzbek militants in the Pakistani town of Wana, near the border with Afghanistan.

"This is a new organization named Jundullah -- the Lashkar [force] of Allah -- headed by Ataur Rehman, [who also has been detained,] and his deputy is Shehzad. Shehzad was trained by Uzbeks in Wana. The other people are also being interrogated just now," Ahmad said.

Syed Kemal Shah, the police chief of Pakistan's southern Sindh Province, said the militants have been involved in a series of recent terrorist attacks in Karachi. "In Karachi, we have arrested a group of eight terrorists," he said. "They have been involved in seven cases in Karachi in the recent past, starting from 15 January to 10 June."

Despite Islamabad's claims of success, some terrorism experts in Pakistan say it is too early to measure the true impact that the arrests will have on Al-Qaeda. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and defense expert at the University of Punjab in Lahore, said the real test will be how much information Pakistani authorities obtain through interrogations.

"Much depends upon if they get information about linkages between these groups from the people who have been arrested. If they find that information, then it becomes a real breakthrough. But if only these people are arrested or convicted, then it becomes a minor thing," Rizvi said.

Rizvi said the detainees already appear to have revealed some details about the activities of Uzbek militants in the autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. "The information that we get here shows that there are some Uzbeks in the tribal areas of Pakistan," he said. "Some of them were killed in past in encounters with the army. This is a matter of concern for the government of Pakistan because if these transnational linkages are not broken, then you have the spillover of terrorism to other countries -- especially to Central Asia where the situation, at times, becomes difficult."

Rizvi also said he is not surprised that Central Asian militants are emerging as members of a previously unknown terrorist group in Pakistan. "These extremist groups [often] create new groups and new factions so that they cannot be easily tracked [through] linkages with established and known groups," he said. "Obviously, these people came from the older groups -- other pro-Al-Qaeda elements or pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Rizvi concluded that in addition to highlighting the activities of Uzbek and Central Asian extremists in Pakistan's tribal areas, the arrests show Pakistan's government is beginning to move in the right direction.

Pakistan's army says it also concluded a major antiterrorist operation last night at Shakai, near the border with Afghanistan. Major General Shaukat Sultan said 55 suspected militants were killed in the operation, along with 17 members of the Pakistani security services.