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Pakistan Hails Arrest of Bombing Suspect

Asia: Man is accused of plotting to assassinate president and of staging deadly consulate attack.

September 19, 2002|From Times Wire Services

KARACHI, Pakistan — Police and intelligence officials said Wednesday that they had arrested an Islamic militant who organized a June car bombing at the U.S. Consulate here and was plotting to assassinate Pakistan's president this week. He is also suspected of masterminding a May car bombing in which 11 French engineers and three other people were killed.

Sharib Ahmad, 30, was arrested in this port city late Tuesday with five other men, the officials said. Ahmad was identified by three other suspects as the leader of the attack on the consulate, police said.

"For us, Sharib's arrest is what Osama bin Laden's capture [would mean] for the Americans," a senior intelligence official said. "This guy was on the loose with a single mission: to kill the president."

Twelve Pakistanis were killed in the bombing, which heavily damaged the fortified consulate. Karachi police said at the time that the bomb was hidden in a vehicle parked outside the 10-foot-high wall surrounding the building.

The six militants captured Tuesday were found at a house in the middle-class residential district of Dhoraji, less than a mile from the site of a military exhibit that President Pervez Musharraf attended Monday. The raid also yielded a large cache of weapons, ammunition and explosives, including an antitank recoilless rifle.

"In their sole aim to kill President Musharraf, these militants had collected 70 hand grenades, 40 rocket-propelled grenades and rockets and about [2,000 pounds] of bomb-making chemicals at their hide-out in Karachi," said a ranking Karachi police official, who asked not to be identified.

Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf's spokesman, on Wednesday night acknowledged the arrest of "several terrorists and seizure of weapons and ammunition," but he denied that the militants were plotting to kill the president.

Officials said the six men were associated with Harkat-ul-Moujahedeen al-Almi, a radical Islamic splinter group. Police say the group was involved in a failed attempt to assassinate Musharraf here in April by placing a car loaded with explosives on a street where his motorcade was to pass. The May bombing, near the Sheraton Hotel, led to an exodus of foreign diplomats, businessmen and their families from Karachi.

The French victims were engineers at France's state-owned naval construction service, which was building a submarine purchased by Pakistan. They were preparing to board a bus to go to work when the bomb exploded.

Officials say they believe that Islamic militants in Pakistan, furious over Musharraf's decision to side with the United States in its war against terrorism and its military campaign against the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, are waging a campaign to destabilize his government. U.S. and other Western citizens also have been targeted by militants.

The militants arrested Tuesday were being questioned Wednesday by a team of Pakistani police and intelligence officials.

Police and intelligence officials said that those arrested this week had deep ties to the Taliban and that the cache of arms and ammunition had been moved to Karachi from Afghanistan in the last few months.

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