Officials: Pakistan Arrests Senior Taliban Figure

Pakistan has arrested a former spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar who was released by Afghanistan in 2007 in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist, security officials said Saturday.

Authorities detained Ustad Mohammed Yasir in the northwest city of Peshawar near the Afghan border, said an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

A Peshawar police official confirmed the arrest, but neither specified when it occurred.

Many Taliban and Al Qaeda militants fled into Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban in 2001. The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to crack down on the militants, who have regrouped in the country's lawless tribal areas and have been launching attacks against Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Many in the West have questioned the Islamabad's ability or willingness to target the Taliban because Pakistan backed the hardline regime before its ouster.

Yasir served as Omar's spokesman following the fall of the regime, said the intelligence official. Pakistan first arrested the former spokesman in 2005 and sent him to Afghanistan, where he was released along with four other Taliban figures for journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, the official added.

The Afghan and Italian governments were heavily criticized for the swap — a step many observers feared would encourage more kidnappings.