Pakistan police arrest 5 suspected members of Al-Qaeda's new South Asia wing

KARACHI (AFP) - Pakistan police have arrested five suspected members of Al-Qaeda's newly formed South Asia chapter in the southern city of Karachi, officials said Friday.

Police and security officials said they believe one of those arrested is the Karachi head of the militant network's new South Asian wing.

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the creation of the new branch in September to "wage jihad" in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, which has a large but traditionally moderate Muslim population.

"Five terrorists including the Karachi chief of Al-Qaeda have been arrested from Lakri Gali, Old Haji Camp neighbourhood of Karachi," a police statement said.

Local security sources confirmed the arrests and an intelligence official told AFP the men had sworn allegiance to the Al-Qaeda wing's leader, Pakistani militant Asim Umar.

"Those arrested include Shahid Usma, chief of the Karachi chapter of Al-Qaeda's South Asia chapter," another security official told AFP.

Karachi, a teeming metropolis of around 18 million people, is rife with political, ethnic, sectarian and criminal violence.

Police said the five arrested men "operate Al-Qaeda's network in the city" and were behind several "acts of terrorism".

They gave no details of these acts, but the Al-Qaeda South Asia branch claimed responsiblity for a daring raid on a naval dockyard in Karachi in September.

At least three Navy officers have been arrested over the attack, raising questions about Al-Qaeda's infiltration in Pakistan's military ranks.