| A Sunni activist chants anti-US slogans at a rally in Karachi. (AFP)
Karachi, March 4 (Reuters): Pakistan’s largest Islamic party today called suspected September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “a hero of Islam” and accused the government of a shameful sellout to America by arresting him at the weekend.
“Those who fought jihad in Afghanistan, who refused to be dictated to by the Americans are heroes of Islam,” Jamaat-e-Islami spokesman Ameer ul-Azeem said. “These men are the targets of America, but Pakistanis consider them their guests — they are ready to give them refuge,” he said. “The government is acting on the dictates of America. This shameful sellout is not acceptable to the people.”
Pakistani officials say Mohammed was arrested on Saturday in the old city of Rawalpindi at the house of a female Jamaat-e-Islami official, whose son was one of two other al Qaida suspects detained with him.
A senior Pakistani said Mohammed had been handed over to US authorities and hinted he had been taken to Afghanistan.
The arrests have thrown a spotlight on the Jamaat-e-Islami party, the backbone of the Islamic movement in Pakistan with ties to mainstream Muslim parties worldwide, and its links to extremists.
The party is a key component of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of six hardline Islamic group that vehemently opposes Pakistan’s support for the US-led war on terror and did unexpectedly well in October elections on the back of opposition to the US-led war in Afghanistan.
Azeem dismissed the charge that Mohammed was arrested at the house of a Jamaat-e-Islami member. “It is a lie,” he said.
At the same time though, the party would not tell its members to stop supporting fugitive holy warriors, Azeem said.
Rashid Qureshi, spokesman of President Pervez Musharraf, said it would be premature to say anything about possible links between al Qaida and any group in Pakistan. But in recent months, police say they have arrested suspected al Qaida members from houses of Jamaat-e-Islami members or their relatives on at least two other occasions.
In January, two foreigners were arrested at the house of the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami’s women’s wing, Sabiha Shahid. And in December, authorities arrested a medical doctor, Ahmed Javed Khawaja, and some of his relatives on suspicion of harbouring al Qaida members. Khawaja is a relative of prominent Jamaat-e-Islami member Hafiz Salman Butt.
Munawaar Hasan, secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami, denied that arrests had been made at the homes of party members. “The burning issue is the way Pakistani authorities are unlawfully arresting innocent people and handing them over to the US,” he said.
“Every citizen is feeling unsafe. We are going to raise this issue in the Parliament as well as on the streets.”
The Jamaat-e-Islami played a key role in fighting the forces of the former Soviet Union and its allied Communist regime in Afghanistan during 1980s. It sent fighters to assist the faction of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has now been declared a terrorist by the US. During the anti-Soviet war, Hekmatyar was a major recipient of weapons and money from the US that was backing Islamists at the time.
Jamaat-e-Islami sources say many of their members had close ties with the mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan and are now opposed to the United States and may assist them on a personal basis. Party spokesman Azeem said he considered Mohammed a hero. ”There is no evidence against him. America is portraying victims as oppressors,” he said.