Pakistan has detained seven suspected Al Qaeda militants in a US-assisted raid in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. One of those arrested was identified in reports as Zabih al-Taifi, who Pakistani officials say played a role in the July 2005 subway bombings in London. The arrests are the latest sign of cooperation between Pakistan and its Western allies to combat terrorist groups that straddle the lawless border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mr. Taifi is a Saudi national, and at least two others detained were ethnic Arabs, the BBC reports. The others were all Afghans. The men, who were arrested at a house of an Afghan refugee on the outskirts of Peshawar, were believed to have planned attacks on trucks crossing into Afghanistan to supply coalition forces. The raid followed a tip-off from US officials.
A resident of Bara Qadeem, the village where the raid took place, told Reuters that he saw some "goras", a term usually applied to white Westerners, observing the raid.
"They came in a black car with tinted glass, but did not take part in the operation," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The intelligence officials had earlier said that the arrested men were believed to have planned attacks on trucks taking supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan and they included four Arabs and three Afghans. A militant source had said that two Arabs and five Afghans were arrested.
The intelligence officials later said the nationality of the other suspects was being established.
The International Herald Tribune reports that seven militants were arrested and were believed to be planning attacks on NATO convoys using the Khyber Pass to supply troops in Afghanistan. A Pakistani security official said Taifi had been hiding in Bajaur, a tribal district that has seen fierce battles between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants.
Taliban guerrillas have recently increased efforts to attack the route, prompting American officials to secure pacts with Russia and Central Asian nations to transport goods into Afghanistan from the north.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that an unmanned spy plane and three helicopters were overhead during the raid. In recent months, the US has stepped up its use of drones to fire missiles at Al Qaeda leaders and other targets along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Pakistan has objected to the violation of its airspace. Wednesday's raid involved close cooperation with US officials, though none have commented publicly. Pakistan's Army has so far declined to comment.
Pakistani intelligence officials told AP and Reuters that Taifi, the detained Saudi, played a role in the 2005 attacks in London, when four British Islamists carried out suicide bombings that killed 52 people. Some of the bombers had visited Pakistan and trained with militants there.
British and American intelligence officials say they have accounted for most of the senior Al Qaeda operatives allegedly involved in planning the July 7 attacks from Pakistan.
Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, the man said to have planned the attacks, was captured in Turkey in 2006 as he was travelling to Iraq in a bid to improve relations with terrorists there.
His associate, Abu Munthir, who acted as a contact between terrorist groups and Al Qaeda's senior command, was detained in Pakistan in 2004.
The bomb-maker is said to be a man called abu Ubaida al-Masri who is thought to have died from hepatitis C last year.
The rise of Islamist militancy among Britain's large Pakistani population has become a serious concern for British politicians and security forces. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently said that the majority of terror plots uncovered in Britain have links to Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Agence France-Presse reports that Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband left Pakistan four days before the raid. His diplomacy was largely aimed at lowering tensions between Pakistan and India in the wake of the attacks on Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in November. A spokesman for his office in London said it was investigating the reports of Wednesday's arrests.
President Obama said during last year's election campaign that he would order airstrikes on militant targets in Pakistan, with or without Pakistan's permission. The US uses drones to fire missiles at what it calls "high-value" Al Qaeda targets in the troubled border area.
The New York Daily News reports that eight such operatives have been killed in the last six months. It says former President Bush gave a green light to the CIA to take action, boosting morale at the agency. Outgoing Central Intelligence Agency chief Michael Hayden told staff that a "powerful blow" had been struck against Al Qaeda during the last year.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that Pakistani leaders often publicly condemn the drone attacks but their complaints about US actions appear to lack conviction, fanning speculation that there is an unspoken pact between the two countries. Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden met Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani and reportedly asked for the incoming administration to rethink its tactics.
But former President Pervez Musharraf, under whose rule these air incursions into Pakistan began, said this weekend that there was never any such understanding between Pakistan and the US in his rule.
"Pakistan has done more than anyone else in the war against terror," he said before boarding a plane on his way to the United States. "The United States should not ask us to do more," he said.
"If the Americans could start focusing more on ways to help Pakistan fight the Pakistani Taliban," the larger fight against militancy and terrorism in the region might be more successful, says Hassan Askari Rizvi, former professor of Pakistan Studies at Columbia University in New York.
Besides better cooperation with the Pakistanis, Mr. Rizvi says the American forces being deployed to Afghanistan next month should also be used to help seal the Afghan border.