LAHORE, Pakistan – Police on Monday arrested six suspected Islamic militants in the eastern city of Lahore, and hoped they could provide clues about a Libyan Al Qaeda (search) operative who is among the most-wanted men in Pakistan.
The Libyan, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, is accused of masterminding two assassination attempts a year ago against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search), targeted by extremists for his support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The six arrested men, all Pakistanis, include Malik Tehsin, 31, who is said to be a member of two outlawed Sunni Muslim militant groups and an aide of al-Libbi.
Shafqaat Ahmed, a senior Lahore police superintendent, told a news conference that Tehsin had met al-Libbi at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan several years ago, and later arranged logistics, transportation and other facilities for the Libyan.
Al-Libbi is accused of organizing the two attempts to assassinate Musharraf in December 2003. The Pakistani leader was unharmed, but 17 people died in the second attempt to blow up his motorcade in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital Islamabad.
Ahmed alleged that Tehsin had rented three houses for al-Libbi, including two in Rawalpindi where he stayed while planning the attacks.
In August, Pakistan offered a 20 million rupee reward (US$345,000) — a huge amount in this impoverished country — for information leading to the arrest of al-Libbi, whose photograph on a most-wanted list shows a dapper man with a trim beard.
His alleged co-Pakistani plotter of the bombings against Musharraf, Amjad Hussain Farooqi, was killed in a shootout with security forces in southern Pakistan on Sept. 26. Farooqi was also accused in the January 2003 kidnapping and execution in Karachi of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.
Pakistan trumpeted Farooqi's demise as an important victory in its fight against Al Qaeda, with officials boasting it had broken the back of the terror network inside the country. Al-Libbi, however, has eluded capture.
Asked if the six arrested men could offer more clues to his whereabouts, Ahmed said, "We are investigating them and we are hopeful for further progress."
Police said Tehsin is a member of the Sunni Muslim militant groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, and was allegedly involved in the killing in 1998 of a Shiite Muslim leader and his daughter in Rawalpindi.
He was arrested as he drove through Lahore with three other Pakistanis: Amir Maqsood alias Abu Haroon, 27, Mahmood Ahmed, 26, and Sajjad Haider, 24.
Ahmed alleged that Tehsin and Mahmood Ahmed had confessed during interrogation to planning a missile attack last year on Lahore airport but the plan fell through as they could not get equipment for the raid.
Two other suspects, not named by police, were arrested in a raid in a house in Lahore later Monday on information provided by Tehsin.
Ahmed did not say when the arrested men would be produced before a court, saying they would be interrogated first.
Pakistan has arrested scores of terror suspects this year, even as its army fights Islamic militants in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.
In the past three years, the government has handed over to the United States about 600 Al Qaeda suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (search), the Al Qaeda No. 3 who is alleged to have played a leading role in planning the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri (search) are suspected to be hiding in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.