July 21, 2005

Detentions spree in Pakistan heralds Musharraf

By Simon Cameron-Moore

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A blitz of detentions of suspected
militants and Islamists has preceded President Pervez
Musharraf's expected address to the nation later on Thursday to
explain Pakistan's crackdown after the London bombings.

Stung into action by Pakistani connections with the July 7
attacks on London that killed 56 people, security forces have
detained close to 300 people, with more raids overnight on
private houses and madrasas, or Muslim religious schools.

Security officials say some of those held are believed to
have links with the bombers, three of whom were Britons of
Pakistani descent. The fourth was a Briton of Jamaican origin.

But there was still no official confirmation that Pakistan
has arrested Haroon Rashid Aswad, a British Muslim reportedly
linked to al Qaeda who is being sought by London.

Information Minister Sheikh Ahmed Rashid told the Daily
Times that a Haroon Rashid had been arrested, but it was not

Several security officials told Reuters Aswad had been
picked up along with a firebrand Sunni Muslim preacher in
Sargodha, 140 km (90 miles) south of Islamabad, earlier this
week and was being held in the eastern city of Lahore.

Musharraf is scheduled to speak at 8.00 p.m. (1500 GMT) in
a televised address to the Pakistani people, many of whom
condemn the London bombings but find talk of Pakistani
involvement hard to swallow and believe madrasas are victims of
a slur campaign.

"We condemn the bomb blasts in London. These cannot be
carried out by Muslims," said Khizar Hayat, an information
technology student and former madrasa pupil told Reuters.

"The al Qaeda factor has been overplayed and that is why
the government of Pakistan is working under the shadow of the
United States and the West," Hayat said, adding that the raids
on madrasas were unwarranted.

Pakistan's probe into links with the bombings has focused
on Lahore and other cities, like Sargodha, in the eastern
province of Punjab, where some 50 more people were arrested

In the southern province of Sindh, police have arrested 45
people, including Maulana Ali Sher Hyderi, a top leader of
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni extremist group with a record
for attacks on the country's minority Shi'ite Muslims.


But in Karachi, Sindh's capital, Deputy Inspector General
of police Mushtaq Shah said no arrests were made during
overnight raids on several madrasas and mosques. "It appears
that they have gone underground but we are chasing them," he

Among those rounded up in Punjab were members of the
outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad and a splinter group which have a
history of running with foreign al Qaeda operatives hiding in

Jaish was linked to assassination attempts on Musharraf and
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in the last 18 months, but there
had not been a full clamp down on its top leadership.

Jaish's main activity in the past was sending guerrillas to
fight Indian rule in Kashmir and for that reason, analysts say,
the authorities were reluctant to move against it too strongly.

Similarly, Western powers are impatient with Pakistan's
failure to curb those madrasas, among thousands of bone fide
religious schools, that are suspected of breeding extremism.

"One can only hope that this time the government is really
serious about cracking down on elements promoting terrorism,"
Pakistani daily The News wrote in an editorial on Thursday.

"The nation will wait and see if the government will follow
up on Tuesday night's actions, and if they will indeed be
effective in the long-term."