April 5, 2006

Indian police arrest Islamic cleric for blasts

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Indian police have arrested six
Islamic militants, including a cleric who helped plan bomb
blasts in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi last month which left
18 people dead and dozens wounded.

Police said on Wednesday the cleric, Waliullah, was an
Indian who acted as the local commander of a Bangladeshi
Islamic militant group, Harkatul Jihad-al Islami, and was a
conduit for three Bangladeshis who carried out the Varanasi

"Waliullah is the mastermind who got his contacts in
Bangladesh to send three militants for carrying out the
Varanasi blasts," senior police officer S.K. Bhagat told a news
conference in Lucknow, capital of the northern state of Uttar

The cleric, from a rural mosque in Uttar Pradesh state
where Varanasi is located, provided the bombers shelter ahead
of the blasts and carried out reconnaissance of targets in
Varanasi including a historic temple, police said.

The bombers have now returned to Bangladesh, police said.

Waliullah was also accused of sending the five other
arrested men -- -- four of whom were from Uttar Pradesh and one
from the eastern state of West Bengal -- to Pakistan through
Bangladesh to attend a militant training camp conducted by
Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani spy agency.

Police said the five were not linked to the Varanasi

Waliullah, who spoke to reporters under armed police guard,
said he was inspired by Islamic militant video cassettes.

"I sent these five men to Bangladesh from where my contact
Asadullah sent them over to Pakistan to attend the 28-day ISI
training camp," he said, wearing a black hood with eye and
mouth holes.

Police said they had recovered plastic explosives, grenades
and weapons including an AK-47 assault rifle from the men.

New Delhi accuses neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh of
harboring anti-India Islamic militants, a charge both Islamabad
and Dhaka deny.

Three days after the Varanasi attacks on March 7, police
detained eight people on suspicion of involvement but all were
released as they were not found to be linked to the blasts.

In October last year, Bangladesh banned Harkatul Jihad for
terrorist activities.