Islamabad, August 3 (Reuters): Pakistan arrested a suspected member of the al Qaida with a multi-million dollar price on his head and several others, government officials said today.
Arrests over the last three days in Pakistan follow on from an earlier sweep for militants which led to information of a possible attack in the US and a subsequent rise in America’s state of alert.
“We have arrested in the past 24 hours from Punjab another two people of African origin who in our view have links to al Qaida,” interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.
“Before that another person was arrested who has a multi-million dollar bounty on his head,” the minister added, but he declined to give any further details on the big catch.
The crackdown on militants in Pakistan has apparently gathered pace since the capture of a computer engineer who acted as an e-mail postman for the groups by distributing coded messages. The New York Times said he was arrested in mid-July.
US officials say information from that arrest, and from the later capture of senior al Qaida member Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, prompted them to issue a high alert warning to financial institutions in Washington, New York and New Jersey.
One of those arrested was a policeman suspected of passing information to al Qaida plotters planning to assassinate the chief minister of Punjab province, Chaudhary Pervez Elahi. One of the foreigners was arrested at a bus stop in the town of Hafizabad in Punjab province. Intelligence sources named him as Jummah Ibrahim and said he was from Sierra Leone.
The sources said the suspect had first claimed he was from Yemen and then Egypt.
The other foreigner was an al Qaida suspect arrested along with two Pakistanis travelling to the eastern city of Lahore in Punjab from the town of Sheikupura last night.
One intelligence official said the Pakistanis belonged to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a local Sunni militant group, and that one had a bounty of 500,000 rupees ($8,532) on his head. Two AK-47 rifles, 150 rounds of ammunition, half-a-dozen grenades and several documents were found in their vehicle.
The policeman was arrested in Lahore at the weekend, interior ministry spokesman Abdul Rauf Chaudhry said.
Another intelligence official said he was caught passing on information of the Punjab chief minister’s travel routes to al Qaida plotters. The official said more police may be arrested.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister-designate Shaukat Aziz escaped unhurt last week after a suicide bomb attack while he was on the campaign trail in Punjab. At least nine people were killed in the attack, claimed by a group with purported links to al Qaida.
A week ago, Pakistani security forces nabbed Tanzanian-born Ghailani, who carried a $5 million reward on his head, and 13 others following a firefight in Gujarat, a town in Punjab which is 175 km southeast of Islamabad. Ghailani was wanted by the US for his role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people.
Intelligence sources say they also seized a computer and more than a hundred disks when they caught him.