The Pakistan Army said on Friday it had arrested 97 militants linked to Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and foiled a jailbreak aimed at freeing Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the mastermind of the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
Chief military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said the militants arrested in Karachi were accused of involvement in attacks on two airbases, the Karachi airport, regional intelligence headquarters and police installations between 2009 and 2015.
“This is the biggest ever arrest of those involved in terror activities,” said Imtiaz Alam, a local journalist. The arrested militants include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi commanders Naeem Bokhari and Sabir Khan, and Farooq Bhatti, believed to be the deputy chief of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
Bajwa told a news briefing the army intelligence believed terror groups were trying to cooperate with each other to carry out attacks. He said the LeJ and AQIS had been working “in collusion” with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Several arrested militants, including Bokhari, were in the advanced stages of planning a jailbreak at Hyderabad Central Jail to free Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who kidnapped and killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, he said.
Six suicide bombers were enlisted for the attack while 19 militants were involved in facilitating it, Bajwa said. More than 350 kg of explosives was recovered from a building believed to be their hideout.
Video footage of the building showed plastic barrels filled with explosives, washing machines used to transport arms and ammunition, long lengths of detonating cord and dozens of ball bearings. It also showed rifles that Bajwa said were stolen from police. “This plan was 90% ready for execution,” he added.
The army will continue its operation in Karachi, which has been an unprecedented success, for another year, he said. During the campaign that led to the arrests, the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers carried out 7,000 targeted operations in Karachi. Of the 12,000 militants arrested by the military, 6,000 were handed over to police.
Since the launch of the military operation in Karachi, there had been a significant fall in kidnappings, murders and other crimes, Bajwa said. “In September 2013, when the Rangers operation began in Karachi, terrorism was at its peak,” he added.
Bajwa noted that some sections of society had expressed concern before the start of the military operation, saying it could create a backlash across the country. “A total of 13,212 operations have been carried out by intelligence agencies,” he said.