ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — About 500 people have been detained in Pakistan in a weeklong crackdown on Islamic clerics and bookshop owners accused of inciting hatred or suspected of links to militants, a government minister said Wednesday.
They are being held under anti-terrorism laws that allow the police to keep suspects in custody for as long as a year without charges, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said.
The campaign began last week after President Pervez Musharraf renewed a call for tighter control over madrasas, or religious schools, long considered to be breeding grounds for Islamic militants in Pakistan.
But officials have insisted that the action is not linked to the deadly July 7 bombings in London. Investigators believe one of the suspected bombers may have been to an Islamic seminary in Pakistan.
Many of those detained over the last week are Islamic clerics suspected of spreading hatred between members of Sunni and Shiite sects and owners of bookshops selling literature deemed to foment religious disharmony.
Others were suspected of links to outlawed militant groups, the interior minister said.
A coalition of religious schools Wednesday demanded that Pakistan immediately halt the action against the institutions.
"We demand that madrasas should not be targeted, directly or indirectly, with allegations of terrorism, extremism and militant training," the Unity of Administrators of Religious Schools said in a statement.
Musharraf has angered Islamic radicals by backing the U.S.-led war against terrorism that ousted the Taliban militia from power in Afghanistan in 2001 for harboring Al Qaeda.
He has outlawed several militant groups, some believed to be linked to the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden.