LAHORE, Pakistan – Police have arrested a close aide of a senior Pakistani Al Qaeda operative who used to run a terror training camp in Afghanistan and was recently captured in the United Arab Emirates, an official said Wednesday.
The aide, identified only as Arshad, was arrested in a raid late Monday on a hideout in Sialkot, a city about 80 miles northwest of Lahore in eastern Pakistan (search), Sialkot police chief Nisar Saroya said.
He said two of Arshad's associates escaped. Police seized 12 rockets, three rocket launchers, two AK-47 assault rifles, three pistols and ammunition.
Arshad is believed to be a close aide of Qari Saifullah Akhtar (search), who used to run a terror camp near the Afghan capital Kabul that trained 3,500 men in combat skills, including assassination and kidnapping. The Rishkhor camp was visited by Usama bin Laden (search) and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar (search).
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that even though Arshad was Akhtar's aide he was not considered to be a member of Al Qaeda (search) and is not a major figure.
Akhtar disappeared just before the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan in October 2001 that led to the ouster of the Taliban regime. He was arrested recently in Dubai, and Pakistani officials said over the weekend that he had been flown to Pakistan for questioning.
Pakistan, a key ally of the United States, has arrested about 20 Al Qaeda suspects in less than a month — including at least one top figure on the FBI list of most-wanted terrorists. The arrests have prompted a series of raids in Britain and uncovered past Al Qaeda plans for attacks in the United States and Britain.
It wasn't immediately clear if the suspects arrested Monday had been planning to carry out any attack. "I can't disclose their plans until investigations are completed," Saroya told The Associated Press.
Arshad is also suspected of links with two militant organizations — Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an Al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim organization blamed for involvement in the killing of minority Shiite Muslims.
Arshad, who had trained in Afghanistan, was wanted in the killings of 13 Shiites in attacks in various parts of Pakistan, Saroya said. It was unclear when those attacks had occurred.
Also Wednesday, security forces in North West Frontier Province arrested three men suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda as they tried to enter a tribal area, an intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in the province's capital of Peshawar.
The three were in a bus that was headed to the tribal region of Momand and they were arrested during a security check at a roadblock in the town of Ghalanai, about 25 miles northwest of Peshawar, near the Afghan border.
In eastern Punjab province, Pakistani police also have arrested two Iraqis who allegedly were raising money for militants battling U.S.-led forces in their homeland, an official said Wednesday.
The men, identified as Mohammed Suleman, 40, and Mohammed Salam, 28, were picked up Tuesday evening while they were collecting money in a bazaar in Shakargarh, 75 miles northwest of Lahore, said Mirza Azeem, the chief of police in Narowal district where Shakargah is located.
Suleman and Salam, a former medical student, had arrived in Shakargah about two weeks ago and told investigators they were gathering funds for militants and civilians who were injured in the conflict in Iraq.
They were charged with traveling illegally in Pakistan and handed over to intelligence officials for further interrogation, Azeem said.
In southern Afghanistan, dozens of soldiers acting on a tip captured two regional Taliban commanders who were riding a motorcycle in the district of Maroof, 120 miles northeast of Kandahar, said Abdul Razzaq, head of security in the area.
He identified them as Mullah Abdul Khaliq and Mullah Dawood and said they were arrested without resistance and were being questioned in an effort to glean information about the hide-outs of other Taliban fugitives.
Afghan forces in the recent weeks have captured or killed dozens of Taliban fighters.