Image: Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan
B.k.bangash  /  AP
Pakistan's army says it has arrested Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman in the Swat Valley, seen here on April 17, and four other militant leaders from the region.
updated 9/11/2009 9:46:06 AM ET 2009-09-11T13:46:06

Pakistan's army has detained a top Taliban spokesman and 4 other militant leaders in the Swat Valley in the first major arrests of top-level insurgents from the troubled region, military officials said Friday.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas did not give any details of the capture, including when it took place, saying only that it came after a successful operation in Swat. However, a local newspaper reported in Friday's editions that some of the men had been engaged in secret peace talks with the military.

Pakistan has waged a four-month-old offensive in Swat, a one-time tourist haven that fell prey to Taliban advances starting in 2007. The operation displaced some 2 million people for several weeks, though most have since returned.

Although the military appears to have largely cleared the militant ranks in the valley, its apparent failure to catch or kill any of the main leaders was a constant concern for residents who feared the insurgents could stage a comeback.

There have been reports that at least one militant commander, Shah Doran, had died, but that was never confirmed.

In a statement Friday, the military noted that the spokesman, Muslim Khan, and fellow detainee Mahmood Khan both had bounties of $121,000 on their head. The other three arrested were identified as commanders Fazle Ghaffar, Abdul Rehman and Sartaj Ali, but no bounty was listed for them.

Peace talks?
The News, a major English-language daily in Pakistan, wrote in a front-page article that some of the men were negotiating with the military. It quoted a militant named Salman as saying the Swat Taliban had lost telephone contact with five men in their delegation in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

Salman said he had become suspicious that the men, Muslim Khan and Mahmud Khan among them, were being held.

Abbas declined to comment when asked about any peace talks.

Pakistan's past attempts to strike peace deals with militants have usually collapsed, with U.S. officials saying the pacts merely give the insurgents time to regroup and rearm.

Swede national held
Meantime, a police officer told the Associated Press that a Swedish national with the same name as a Swede arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and held for two years at Guantanamo Bay was detained in Pakistan last month on suspicion of links to al-Qaida.

Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali was arrested with two other Swedes and nine other foreigners close to the country's northwestern tribal regions, the officer said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give out information he judged to be sensitive.

He did not know about Ghezali's past activities, but confirmed he was carrying a Swedish passport bearing the name Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali.

Swedish national Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali was held for more than two years by the United States at its prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after Pakistani authorities arrested him in 2001.

Ghezali reportedly was part of a group of 156 suspected al-Qaida fighters caught while fleeing Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains.

Ghezali denied any links to al-Qaida and was released by the U.S. in 2004.

A spokeswoman at the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm said it had received no information on the matter.

More on: Pakistan

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