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Pakistan Arrests 20 Suspects in Hunt for Al-Qaida Members
Michael Kitchen
25 Feb 2004, 11:55 UTC

Pakistan has arrested at least 20 suspects as it wrapped up a new operation to flush out suspected foreign terrorists in its semi-autonomous tribal area. The operation may provide important leads in the hunt for members of the al-Qaida terror network.

The Pakistan military would not confirm the number of foreigners arrested in Tuesday's half-day operation, but officials confirmed that at least some suspected foreign militants were among the 20 to 25 people taken into custody.

Military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan says the group also included several women, and that interrogation of the suspects has begun.

He could not confirm a local report that the women arrested were carrying Kazakhstan passports.

He says the operation, in the South Waziristan tribal agency bordering Afghanistan, was based on information from an informant, rather than through regular intelligence gathering.

"It wasn't a confirmed intelligence, but it was on a tip-off, and on this tip-off the operation was launched, and they [the military] were able to get hold of foreigners. And their presence was also confirmed through the documents and passports," he said.

The general added that all of the suspects were captured at a residential compound belonging to a local Waziri. The home was later demolished as punishment for sheltering the suspects.

While General Sultan would not comment on plans for future operations, officials say wanted suspects are still reported to be at large in the tribal agency.

Sources say the military campaign in Waziristan is connected to the hunt for fugitive members of the al Qaida terror network, including its leader, Osama bin Laden.

U.S. military officials have said recently that the hunt for bin Laden is intensifying and that he is believed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Pakistan has played down military cooperation with U.S. forces currently hunting al-Qaida members and Afghan anti-government insurgents.

But U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Matt Beevers lauded Tuesday's operation and said the U.S. command is working closely with the Pakistanis.

"Clearly, coalition forces support the Pakistani army's efforts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. . I think our level of cooperation is outstanding," he said.

He added that the U.S. force is still looking for bin Laden and other al Qaida leaders but is confident of their eventual capture.

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