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Pakistan arrests 2 "planners" in US consulate attack

By Staff
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KARACHI, May 4 (Reuters) Pakistani police have arrested two Islamist militants suspected of planning a March suicide bomb attack that killed a US diplomat and three others outside the US consulate in Karachi, an official said today.

''We have got some encouraging leads from both of them. They belong to a jihadi group and were the main planners of the consulate attack,'' Salahuddin Haider, a spokesman for the provincial Sindh government, told Reuters.

The attack took place on March 2, the eve of a visit by US President George W Bush to Pakistan, and police at the time said they suspected Islamist militants opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's support for the US-led war on terrorism.

Haider said he could not release the name of the suspects, but termed the arrests as ''a major breakthrough''.

The attack was well-planned, with the driver of a white Toyota Corolla packed with explosives ramming the diplomat David Foy's vehicle metres (yards) from the US Consulate main gate.

The blast also wounded 52 people.

The arrests coincided with a visit by Henry A Crumpton, the US State Department's ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counter-terrorism, to Islamabad for talks on the war on terrorism, implementation and intelligence-sharing.

General John P. Abizaid, US Commander in Chief Central Command (CENTCOM), was also in town for talks with Musharraf.

AL QAEDA LINK A senior police official, who asked not to be named, said investigators had found a link between the arrested militants and an al Qaeda-linked Pakistani militant group operating in the troubled tribal region of Waziristan.

''We are also sharing information with the FBI,'' he added.

Another security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the arrested men belonged to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim militant group that has forged links with al Qaeda, though it is also behind many attacks on Pakistan's minority Shi'ite Muslim community.

The link to Waziristan, a rugged region bordering Afghanistan, is significant as Pakistan's security forces have been fighting al Qaeda and pro-Taliban militants there for the more than two years.

Many al Qaeda members fled to the region from Afghanistan after US-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, and were given shelter by sympathisers among the conservative Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border.

REUTERS PM RN2133

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