Police arrested six suspected Islamic militants in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday, hoping they could provide clues about a Libyan al-Qaida operative who is among the most-wanted men in Pakistan.
The Libyan, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, is accused of masterminding two assassination attempts a year ago against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has been targeted by extremists for his support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The six arrested men, all Pakistanis, include Malik Tehsin, 31, who is said to be a member of two outlawed Sunni Muslim militant groups and an aide of al-Libbi.
Shafqaat Ahmed, a senior Lahore police superintendent, told a news conference that Tehsin met al-Libbi at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan several years ago and later arranged logistics, transportation and other facilities for the Libyan.
Musharraf was unharmed in the attempts on his life in December 2003, but 17 people died in the second attempt to blow up his motorcade in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital, Islamabad.
Ahmed alleged that Tehsin had rented three houses for al-Libbi, including two in Rawalpindi, where he allegedly stayed while planning the attacks.
In August, Pakistan offered a $345,000 reward — a huge amount in this impoverished country — for information leading to the arrest of al-Libbi, whose photograph on a most-wanted list shows a dapper man with a trim beard.
An alleged co-plotter of the bombings against Musharraf, Amjad Hussain Farooqi, was killed in a shootout with security forces in southern Pakistan on Sept. 26. Farooqi, a Pakistani, was also accused in the January 2003 kidnapping and execution in Karachi of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.
Pakistan trumpeted Farooqi’s demise as an important victory in its fight against al-Qaida, with officials boasting it had broken the back of the terror network inside the country. Al-Libbi, however, has eluded capture.
Asked if the six arrested men could offer more clues to his whereabouts, Ahmed said, “We are investigating them and we are hopeful for further progress.”
Police and counterterrorism officials denied Arabic television reports that Ayman al-Zawahri, the al-Qaida No. 2, might be among the arrested men.
Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, director-general of the National Crisis Management Cell at the Interior Ministry, said “no high-profile al-Qaida suspect” was among the six.
Police said Tehsin is a member of the Sunni militant groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, and was allegedly involved in the killing in 1998 of a Shiite Muslim leader and his daughter in Rawalpindi.
He was arrested as he drove through Lahore with three other Pakistanis: Amir Maqsood alias Abu Haroon, 27, Mahmood Ahmed, 26, and Sajjad Haider, 24.
Ahmed alleged that Tehsin and Mahmood Ahmed had confessed during interrogation to planning a missile attack last year on Lahore airport but the plan fell through as they could not get equipment for the raid.
Two other suspects, not named by police, were arrested in a raid in a house in Lahore later Monday on information provided by Tehsin.
Ahmed did not say when the arrested men would be produced before a court, saying they would be interrogated first.
Pakistan has arrested scores of terror suspects this year, as its army fights Islamic militants in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.
In the past three years, the government has handed over to the United States about 600 al-Qaida suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al-Qaida No. 3 who is alleged to have played a leading role in planning the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy al-Zawahri are suspected to be hiding in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.