ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities arrested 23 men suspected of links to Al Qaeda in late night raids in two cities as they continued to track down terrorists seeking refuge their nation, police said Thursday.
In a raid in the North West Frontier Province, authorities arrested 21 men belonging to the outlawed Islamic militant group Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, police official Ilyas Khan said by phone.
The men were picked up Wednesday night and were sent to an interrogation center in Mansehra, 180 miles northwest of Peshawar, Khan said.
Police also seized weapons and terrorist-training manuals from the militants' safe-house, Khan said.
In a raid in the eastern Punjab provincial capital of Lahore, also Wednesday night, two Tunisian men suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda were arrested near a known safe-house, said a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the men were now under interrogation, but would not provide details.
In the last week, authorities have arrested some 100 people in Pakistan for suspected links with Al Qaeda, and police sources say those taken into custody have provided information that has led to further arrests.
One of those arrested, Abu Zubaydah, was a key lieutenant of Usama bin Laden and is now in American custody. Officials will not say where he is being held, citing security reasons.
In addition, police and intelligence agencies in Lahore are convinced that one of the 16 Al Qaeda suspects they arrested Monday, Abdul Hadi, had ``access'' to the terrorist organization's leadership, according to police sources.
Hadi, a Libyan, is still being interrogated by Lahore authorities, said a senior police official.
The others arrested in the same raid included Saudis, Syrians, Egyptians, Afghans and Pakistanis. One of the Pakistanis, identified as Riaz Ismail, provided the Al Qaeda cell with food, U.S. dollars and equipment and manuals for manufacturing homemade bombs, intelligence officials said.
The militant group Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, formerly called the Ansar Movement, was founded to fight the Indian army in disputed Kashmir and maintained close ties to Al Qaeda for years.
During the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan, hundreds of members joined with the Taliban and Al Qaeda to fight coalition troops.
Pakistan's intelligence agencies believe some of the Harkat-ul Mujahedeen are still hiding inside Afghanistan, while others are regrouping in Pakistan to renew their attack on the coalition forces, Pakistani intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity.
Harkat ul-Mujahedeen is one of several groups believed to have teamed up with radical Islamic groups Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Sipah-e-Sahaba to try and destabilize the government of President Pervez Musharraf because of his support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
All were banned by Musharraf on Jan. 12.
The leading suspect in the kidnap-slaying of American journalist Daniel Pearl, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, is believed by police to have strong ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed, while others still being sought include activists from Harkat ul-Mujahedeen.