| A London Underground carriage being removed from the Edgware Road station. (Reuters)
Islamabad, July 20 (Reuters): Pakistani security forces have arrested a British Muslim believed to be wanted in connection with the July 7 London bombings, Pakistani intelligence sources said today, but a minister denied he had been detained.
Several intelligence sources, who asked not to be identified, said Haroon Rashid Aswad had been picked up earlier this week during a crackdown on militants in Pakistan which netted more than 200 suspects.
“We have arrested Haroon Rashid from the house of Qari Fateh Mohammad from Sargodha three days ago... We strongly believe he has links with bombers,” one security official said.
An official said the Qari, an honorific title for someone who recites the Quran, had been detained at madarsa Qasim ul-Aloom on the outskirts of Sargodha, 150 km south of Islamabad.
Officials said Aswad had been taken from Sargodha and was being held in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
Other intelligence sources also stood by their comments on Aswad’s arrest, despite a denial by information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
“We have arrested nobody called Haroon Rashid,” the minister said.
One of the intelligence sources said Aswad had been carrying a belt packed with explosives for a possible suicide attack, around one million rupees ($17,000) and a British passport.
Aswad appears to be the unnamed militant Reuters reported was captured on Monday and found with explosives and cash.
Various media, including today’s Asian Wall Street Journal, have reported that a search was still on for Aswad after his name was passed to Pakistani intelligence by British investigators.
The newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying Aswad’s name had come up in the investigation based on information from the cellphone of one of the London bombers.
It also said a man named Aswad Rashid Haroon figured in US intelligence databases as having ties to the al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden.
Speaking to BBC Radio, Pakistan’s high commissioner (ambassador) to London, Maleeha Lodhi, declined to go into specifics when asked about the arrest, on the grounds that this could compromise the investigation.
“But certainly people are being questioned in Pakistan and we ourselves have renewed a crackdown on extremism.”
President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, ordered a new crackdown on militants after revelations that three of the four London bombers were British Muslims of Pakistani descent who visited Pakistan before the attacks.
Officials say the three had entered Pakistan last year via Karachi and at least one of them visited Islamic schools.
Musharraf plans to address the nation at 1500 GMT tomorrow on the London bombings and the crackdown on militants. Yesterday, security forces detained more than two dozen suspects in a series of raids linked to investigations into the bombings.