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A YEAR AFTER

Pakistan Probes Terror Ties After Shootout

Asia: Battle after police raid on a Karachi apartment house leaves two suspects dead, five arrested. Gunmen may belong to Al Qaeda cell.

September 12, 2002|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KARACHI, Pakistan — Authorities were investigating whether seven gunmen who hurled grenades and fired assault rifles Wednesday during a police raid on an apartment building were linked to terrorism.

The three-hour gun battle here left two suspects dead and five under arrest, Inspector General Syed Kamal Shah said, and six police officers and intelligence agents were wounded, four of them seriously.

Although some reports said police suspected that the men belonged to a cell of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, Shah said he couldn't reach any conclusions until the investigation was complete. A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the men were believed to be Afghans or Central Asians.

"The information we received was that there were some criminals residing in this building," Shah said. "The two dead bodies have not been identified as yet. After the postmortem, we will put them in the mortuary, and if they are still not identified, we will presume they are not locals."

FBI agents have been working with Pakistani police to track down suspected terrorists in several cities, including Karachi, but Shah said no foreign law enforcement agents took part in Wednesday's operation.

Shah said he could not confirm a report that at least one of the suspects spoke Arabic. "I was on the spot myself," he said. "I did not hear anything of the sort."

Police surrounded the building at 9 a.m., and the shooting began a half-hour later. The raid involved apartments on three floors, Shah said, though only two turned out to be inhabited.

One officer received a life-threatening gunshot wound to the chest, he said.

Hours later, police reported that they had arrested five men in a separate raid who were suspected of planning terrorist attacks on American fast-food restaurants in Karachi.

The men were suspected of being members of Al Almi, a splinter group of the militant Islamic organization Harkat-ul-Moujahedeen. They were preparing to target McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in the city, police said in a statement.

Pakistan's security forces have been involved in numerous shootouts with suspected militants in recent months as the government of President Pervez Musharraf has intensified its efforts to shut down groups linked to terrorist attacks, such as a car bombing in June outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi that killed 12 Pakistanis.

Although this port city has been rife with violent crime and gang warfare for years, police normally do not come under sustained attack with grenades and automatic weapons fire, as they did in Wednesday's gunfight. The firepower fed suspicion that the suspects were trained militants.

Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have deep roots in Karachi, where Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed earlier this year. Police say there were at least two failed plots to assassinate Musharraf in the city in April.

On Monday, police said they had arrested five men from Al Almi in connection with one of the plots. Police arrested four men from the same organization in July and accused them of trying to kill Musharraf with a truck bomb that failed to detonate.

All seven suspects targeted in Wednesday's raid were living on two floors of the low-rise apartment building, Shah said. A woman and child also were in the building, but Shah said police evacuated them before attacking the rooms.

Police had to move carefully because the building was in a densely populated area, Shah said.

"It was not very easy to storm into the apartment," he said. "That would have been at the cost of great risk to many lives. So we took time to handle the situation, and we also used tear gas."

Police seized a satellite phone, a laptop computer, CDs, books, and firearms, hand grenades and ammunition from the apartment, according to a local newspaper report.

Soon after the raid, Shah told reporters that a child had been killed in the cross-fire, but he retracted that statement later Wednesday.

Quoting an intelligence official, Associated Press said one of the wounded suspects scrawled, "There is no God but Allah" in his own blood on an apartment wall.

Shah said he had not seen that nor heard it reported by any of his officers.

"I was in the room where the two bodies were found, and I have not seen anything of the sort," Shah said. "But it's not something uncommon. All Muslims believe that there is no God but Allah. So this would be proof of their militancy, or the fact that they are die-hards."

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