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Pakistan holds suspected Taliban officials
19. July 2005, 12:32

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces have arrested some suspected Taliban officials in a raid in northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, police said on Tuesday.

Pakistani newspaper reports quoted unnamed officials as saying Mawlavi Abdul Kabir -- a deputy of elusive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar -- was among those arrested, but senior Pakistani officials said they were unable to confirm this.

Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi denied Kabir had been arrested and said there were no important Taliban officials among the "four or five" he said had been arrested in Pakistan.

Police said "a few" suspected Taliban officials were arrested on Saturday night in a raid on an Afghan refugee camp in Akora Khattack, a town around 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

"A few people have been arrested who are suspected to be Taliban but their identity has not yet been established," a senior police officer in Akora Khattack said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, contacted by Reuters, said they were unable to confirm that the group included Kabir.

Pakistani officials also said they arrested three members of a Sunni Muslim militant group in the port city of Karachi early on Tuesday.

The members of the outlawed Harkat-ul Mujahideen al-Alami (Movement of Holy Warriors International) were arrested during a raid before dawn on house in a slum area of the southern city, but two others managed to escape, the police said.

"The militants were planning to carry out attacks against minority sects, including Shi'ites, in Karachi," Ali Murad Charan, a police inspector involved in the arrests, told Reuters.

Charan also said the three took part in fighting with Pakistani security forces in a tribal area near the Afghan border, where al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are said to be holed up.


Taliban spokesman Hakimi, who spoke to Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, said Kabir was not in Pakistan and had never visited the country.

"Mawlavi Kabir is inside Afghanistan and is commanding Taliban forces in Paktika," he said, referring to an eastern province bordering Pakistan.

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said Kabir's arrest, if confirmed, would be a positive development in terms of both cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistan governments and for the security situation ahead of Afghanistan's parliamentary elections on Sept 18.

Hakimi said in April that Kabir was the head of the Taliban's political commission, which would make him the number two to Mullah Omar.

In April, Kabir rejected as baseless reports that he had held reconciliation talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

Kabir served as the Taliban's top military commander in the east of Afghanistan during the group's rule until late 2001.

According to Afghan sources, he played a big role in providing safe passage in 2001 for senior al Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, who had been trapped by U.S.-led forces in the Tora Bora mountains after the Taliban's fall.

U.S. and Afghan officials have often complained that a large number of the Taliban have found sanctuary in Pakistan, from where they plan and launch attacks inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan was the main backer of the Taliban, but officially abandoned the Islamists after they refused to hand over bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stem the militants' activity and has deployed thousands of troops along its long, porous border with Afghanistan to prevent guerrilla movement.

The whereabouts of bin Laden and Omar remain unknown, but U.S. officials have said they are believed to be hiding in the rugged region on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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