Lahore, March 17 (Reuters): Pakistani intelligence agents have seized six more suspected al Qaida militants in the east of the country as their crackdown on the organisation gathers pace, sources said today.
The six arrests since last night were made thanks to information gleaned since the arrest of al Qaida communications and logistics expert Yasir al-Jaziri this weekend and included his brother-in-law, the intelligence sources said.
Information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said he had not received word of the reported arrests, but sources said they also included a Qatari national and at least three Afghans.
“Security agencies arrested a relative of al-Jaziri from (the town of) Gujranwala last night,” said one intelligence source. “The arrested person is a brother-in-law of al-Jaziri.”
Two other intelligence sources said more arrests were made in the early hours of today in the eastern city of Lahore where al-Jaziri was picked up on Saturday.
One intelligence source said investigators believed al-Jaziri had played a role in disseminating audio and video tapes of al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden to the media, although this could not be independently confirmed.
The Qatar-based television channel al Jazeera, which has received several such tapes, denied any knowledge of al-Jaziri.
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, working closely with FBI agents, have tightened the noose on al Qaida operatives in Pakistan in the last month after arresting the organisation’s number three, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, on March 1 in Rawalpindi.
Mohammed is suspected of playing a leading role in planning the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US and sources say his arrest helped lead to al-Jaziri. Senior intelligence officials say they hope the trail will eventually lead towards bin Laden himself, but admit they still have no idea where the Saudi-born militant is.
Mohammed was transferred to US custody shortly after his capture, but officials say al-Jaziri is still in the country under interrogation by Pakistani and FBI agents.
Intelligence sources said they were working their way through telephone numbers in a digital diary found in al-Jaziri’s possession, but said US experts were still trying to crack the security code on his computer.
Pakistan, a leading ally in the US war on terror, says its security forces have detained over 440 suspected al Qaida and Taliban militants since September 11, 2001, and handed more than 340 over to the US. At least 36 have been transferred to other countries and over 50 released without charge.