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Cleric who negotiated Taliban-Pakistan peace deal is arrested

Taliban-aligned Sufi Mohammed arranged a truce in the Swat Valley, but militants have since reneged on the deal. Mohammed , father-in-law to a Taliban leader, is accused of militancy and violence.

July 27, 2009|Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, AND ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — reporting from peshawar, pakistan Pakistani police on Sunday arrested Sufi Mohammed, the Taliban-aligned cleric responsible for brokering a controversial peace deal between Swat Valley militants and the government this year. That deal eventually broke down, leading to the ongoing military offensive against Taliban fighters.

Mohammed is the father-in-law of Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, the Taliban leader who fought Pakistani troops for two years before wresting control of the Swat Valley, once a tourist mecca.

Mohammed negotiated a peace deal with the government in February that called for Fazlullah's fighters to lay down their arms in exchange for the imposition of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the region. In the spring, Taliban militants in Swat reneged on the truce and moved into the neighboring district of Buner, just 60 miles from the nation's capital, Islamabad.

Fazlullah's actions prompted Pakistani leaders to mount an all-out assault on militants in Swat and surrounding regions, a move that forced the exodus of nearly 2 million civilians from the conflict zone.

Mohammed was arrested without incident at a relative's house near Peshawar, where he had been staying since July 6, authorities said.

Mohammed was being charged with continuing to encourage terrorism and attempting to reorganize insurgents.

Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for North-West Frontier Province, which includes the Swat Valley, said Mohammed recently had convened organizing meetings in Peshawar despite the Pakistani government's ban on his group, the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law.

"He is responsible for militancy and violence, and he will be brought to justice," Hussain said at a news conference in Peshawar. "He embarked on reorganizing his group and convened meetings . . . in Peshawar, which is intolerable for the government."

Mohammed spent six years in prison in Pakistan after sending thousands of militants into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces, which overthrew the Taliban there following the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. He had been freed in 2008 after he agreed to renounce violence.

The Pakistani government has begun returning hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes in Swat and surrounding areas, though skirmishes between Taliban militants and Pakistani troops continue to flare up. Fazlullah remains at large.

Authorities on Sunday also announced the arrest of a former member of parliament and a suspected Taliban militant in connection with the abduction and beheading of a Polish geologist last fall, the Associated Press reported.

Piotr Stanczak was kidnapped in September while conducting oil and gas survey work near Attock, just outside North-West Frontier Province. Police say Shah Abdul Aziz, who once served in parliament as a representative of a pro-Taliban party, masterminded Stanczak's abduction and ordered his slaying. The Taliban militant Ata Ullah was one of the gunmen who kidnapped and killed Stanczak, officials said.

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alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Ali is a special correspondent.

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