Pakistan arrests 97 Al-Qaeda and other militants; foils planned jailbreak

A soldier guards the central jail in Hyderabad, near Karachi, in this file photo.
A soldier guards the central jail in Hyderabad, near Karachi, in this file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - Pakistan has arrested 97 Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants, including three commanders, in the southern port city of Karachi, and foiled a planned attack that would have broken Daniel Pearl's killer out of jail, the military said on Friday (Feb 12).

The men are accused of involvement in major attacks on two Pakistani air bases, the Karachi airport, several regional intelligence headquarters and on police installations between 2009 and 2015, the military said.

The LeJ’s Naeem Bokhari and Sabir Khan, as well as Farooq Bhatti, deputy chief of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), were captured by Pakistani forces in recent raids, military spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa said.

“Our conclusion is that all of the terrorist groups are trying to cooperate with each other in order to carry out terrorist attacks,” he told a news conference.

The LeJ and AQIS had been working “in collusion” with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, Bajwa added.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an Islamist group whose sectarian ideology is closely aligned with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, once enjoyed the backing of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.

Bajwa declined to give details of the raids, including their timing.

Several of those arrested, including Bokhari, were in the advanced stages of planning a jailbreak attempt on the Hyderabad Central Jail, Bajwa said.  Khalid Omar Sheikh, who kidnapped and killed the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl in 2002, is being held at that jail and was to be released during the raid, he said.

Six suicide bombers had been enlisted in the attack plan, in addition to 19 involved in facilitating it, Bajwa said.

More than 350kg of explosives had been recovered from a building believed to be a hideout, he said.  Video images of the building showed blue plastic barrels filled with explosives, washing machines that had been used to transport arms and ammunition, long lengths of detonating cord and dozens of ball bearings.

The footage also showed several rifles that Bajwa said had been stolen from police in earlier targeted attacks.

“This plan was 90 per cent ready for execution,” he added.