QUETTA, Pakistan – Police arrested 39 Afghans suspected of being Taliban fighters in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, an official said Tuesday, though an Islamist group insisted the detainees were only students.
The arrests late Monday and early Tuesday came in separate raids on rented houses in areas with large Afghan refugee populations, said Chaudhry Mohammed Yaqoob, chief of police in Baluchistan province, whose capital is Quetta.
Pakistan is under pressure from the U.S. and neighboring Afghanistan to do more to detain Taliban militants or extremists allied with the toppled Afghan regime. The Pakistani government denies turning a blind eye to such activities, saying it is doing its best to crack down on militants.
Police are interrogating the suspects to learn if any senior Taliban figures were among them, Yaqoob said. Afghan officials have alleged Taliban leader Mullah Omar is in Quetta, but Pakistan has rejected the claim.
A spokesman for a pro-Taliban Islamic group protested the arrests, claiming the men were Islamic students and not fighters.
"They came here to study. They have no link with fighting," said Abdul Sattar Chisti of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, a key member of a six-party Islamic political coalition.
Dozens of Taliban suspects have been arrested in the city in recent months, with many handed over to Afghan authorities, Yaqoob said. Among them are militants being treated at Quetta hospitals after being wounded in clashes with NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he said.
Pakistan had supported the Taliban before severing ties with the militia and backing the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.