Pak police arrest 25 in Punjab province

Southern Punjab is considered to be a hotbed of Punjab unit of the TTP.

Updated: Jun 01, 2010, 15:56 PM IST

Lahore: Law enforcement agencies launched a massive crackdown across Pakistan`s Punjab province on Tuesday arresting 25 suspects after militants made a brazen bid to free one of their members, arrested for the Ahmadi mosque carnage, from a hospital here.

The clampdown in large parts of southern Punjab, considered to be a hotbed of Punjab unit of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, came after gunmen last night stormed the Jinnah hospital here where the victims of the May 28 mosque attack were being treated, killing at least five people.

Just days after carrying out the gruesome killing of at least 95 people in the two mosques in eastern part of the city, heavily-armed gunmen drove into the hospital compound to free their accomplice, but were beaten by alert securitymen.

"We have taken into custody some 25 suspects from Lahore and adjacent areas and they are being interrogated," police spokesman Niyab Haider said.

Four militants disguised as policemen stormed the Jinnah Hospital at around midnight in a bid to free Moaz alias Amir Muavia, a terrorist who was captured in an injured condition during an attack on an Ahmedi mosque on Friday.

The militants fired indiscriminately, killing four policemen and a woman, before the attack was repulsed by security forces.

Police later shifted Moaz under tight security to the hospital within Kot Lakhpat prison.

Ninety-five people were killed and over 100 injured in last week`s audacious assault on two Ahmedi mosques. Moaz and 10 Ahmedis were being treated in Jinnah Hospital at the time of the attack early this morning.

Haider said three accomplices of the terrorists involved in Friday`s attacks on the Ahmedi mosques had been arrested from Gujranwala district.

"It could have been an attempt to either silence or rescue Moaz," the police official said.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Mohammad, another terrorist arrested during Friday`s attacks, has been remanded by a court to police custody till June 18.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Naeem Brokha said Moaz and Abdullah Mohammad belonged to the southern part of Punjab.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has hinted for the first time that an operation may be launched in southern Punjab against the militant groups aligned closely with the Taliban.

The militants from the groups Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen have a close alliance with Pakistani Taliban and are active in southern Punjab.Authorities carried out night-long raids in Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffarghar, Jhang, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts.

Malik`s comments promptly brought him and the Pakistan People`s Party-led federal government into a confrontation with the PML-N government in Punjab.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was quick to reject Malik`s assertions.

Sanaullah even claimed that the reports about an anti-militancy operation in Punjab were part of an "international conspiracy".

Responding to reports that the attack on the hospital could have been aimed at either eliminating or freeing Moaz, Malik said it was not in his "notice" that the suspect was being treated at Jinnah Hospital.

This obviously suggested that Malik would have asked the authorities to keep the whereabouts of the suspect secret. Malik`s latest remarks were also tantamount to an expression of distrust in the ability and will of the Punjab government to tackle the fast growing militancy in Punjab.

It was also a sign that the Centre and Punjab were moving towards a showdown over the Punjabi Taliban. "The PML-N`s Punjab government must stop living in denial and face the ugly fact that southern parts of the province are awash with militants of a very hard hue," well-known columnist Kamran Shafi said.