ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A man who launched a militant Islamic group to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan has been arrested in connection with the kidnapping of three U.N. workers there in October, a senior Pakistani Cabinet minister said Saturday.
Syed Akbar Agha (search), a former Taliban front-line commander in Afghanistan who later founded Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, was captured in the southern city of Karachi this week, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press.
"We have arrested the mastermind of the kidnapping of the U.N. workers in Afghanistan," Ahmed said. He gave no other details other than to say the arrest was not announced immediately in hopes that interrogation of Agha would lead to other suspects being taken into custody.
Pakistani security agencies also arrested Abdul Hinan Hemat (search), head of the Taliban's Bakhtar news agency, this week with another person in the southwestern city of Quetta, a Taliban spokesman told the AP by telephone. The Pakistan government had no immediate comment on the claim, and it was unclear if the two arrests were linked.
Hemat was one of the main media personalities during the Taliban (search) regime, which was ousted as a result of U.S.-led operations in late 2001. In his official capacity, he developed friendly relations with scores of Taliban commanders and leaders.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said at the time that Agha's group may have hired bandits to abduct the U.N. workers, who helped organize Afghanistan's Oct. 9 presidential election. Armed men seized Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo on Oct. 28.
Agha last month told the AP that he would free the trio if Aghan authorities accepted the group's demand for the release of 26 prisoners held in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Agha's group said 15 were seized by U.S. troops near the southern border town of Spin Boldak last month. The others were detained earlier, and some may have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The kidnappers abandoned their captives unharmed on a street in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Nov. 23. Afghan officials insist that no ransom was paid or that any other concessions were made to gain their release.
A senior leader of Agha's group confirmed his arrest.
"According to our information, he was arrested along with his wives and children from Karachi," said the man, who spoke on condition that he not be named.
An intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the women and children had been freed.
Afghan and U.S. officials had sought Islamabad's help to track Agha down, after he used a mobile phone to contact some media to claim responsibility for the abduction, an intelligence official said.
The official said Agha's real name was Haji Fazal Karim.
Agha is a former Afghan commander who joined the country's Taliban militia as it swept toward power in 1995, according to Pakistan's largest-circulation newspaper, The News. He served as the Taliban military commander in the then-front line at Maidan Shahr, capital of Wardak province west of Kabul, for 11 months, it said.
Agha was later expelled from the Taliban by its chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
In a recent interview, Agha told The News that he launched his group in December 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and liberate his homeland. His group has claimed a number of attacks on U.S. and Afghan troops.
Ahmed said Agha was being interrogated by Pakistani security agencies, but would not say whether he would be turned over to Afghan authorities.
"He is right now in our custody, and we have the capability to interrogate people like him," he told Geo television.