Pakistan foils terror plots, arrests 10
Pakistan has arrested up to 10 al Qaeda suspects, including two Egyptians, suspected of planning suicide attacks against the government and the U.S. embassy, ministers said Saturday.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the targets included the presidency, the military residence of President Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. embassy, the office of the chief minister of Punjab province, and the national convention center.
The targets are all in the capital Islamabad, or its adjoining city Rawalpindi.
Ahmed said up to six people had been arrested over a period of about a week before the planned attacks on Aug. 13, the eve of Pakistani Independence Day. He said the group were found with rockets, grenades, rifles and explosives.
Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told Reuters "eight to 10" people were being held and the two Egyptians, Qari Ismail and Sheikh Essa, were suspected of being "key elements" of the group.
He said the plots bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
"We have obtained valuable information from the foreigners ... we have unearthed a big and sinister plan," he said.
"The most dangerous aspect was that their targets included army headquarters, parliament building, prime minister house and important people," he said. "This kind of terrorism can only be done by terrorists like al Qaeda."
Ahmed said three or four more suspects were being sought.
Hayat said the men were found with "the latest gadgetry and equipment."
He named one of the Pakistanis arrested as Farooq Usman and described former member of parliament Javed Ibrahim Piracha as a "key element" in the conspiracy.
Piracha is a pro-Taliban hard-line Muslim who has taken part in legal moves to defend al Qaeda suspects arrested in Pakistan in the past.
Ahmed said Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a hard-line Islamic cleric from Islamabad, was also wanted in the case, but was still at large.
"Our intelligence agencies have arrested a very dangerous group," he said.
Police have conducted several raids on mosques and religious schools in Islamabad in the past week to try to arrest Ghazi.
The arrests follow a crackdown launched since the arrest in Pakistan last month of an al Qaeda computer expert, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who has proved a key source of information on the identity of operatives from the organization.
Khan's arrest has led to the detention of more than 60 suspected militants in Pakistan and revealed plans for attacks on British and U.S. targets. But the Information Minister said the latest arrests were not connected to that of Noor Khan.
Suspected al Qaeda militants made two unsuccessful attempts to kill Musharraf, a key ally of Washington's global "war on terror," in December. Last month, a suicide bomber killed himself and eight others in a attempt on the life of Finance Minster and Prime Minister designate Shaukat Aziz.
Al Qaeda-linked militants have also launched repeated attacks on U.S. targets in Pakistan since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 carried out by al Qaeda.