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Top Punjabi Taliban commanders captured

Last Updated: Friday, October 23, 2009 - 14:45

Islamabad: Pakistani security agencies have arrested two top Taliban commanders in Punjab province who are believed to have masterminded the audacious October 10 attack on the military`s headquarters in Rawalpindi and other high-profile strikes in Lahore.
The two commanders, identified as Iqbal and Gul Muhammad, are from Faisalabad. They were arrested earlier this week by law-enforcement agencies, Dawn reported on Friday, quoting senior officials.

They were members of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Shura, the umbrella council of about top 40 militant commanders that coordinates and oversees Taliban activities in Pakistan, officials said.

The duo, who were in charge of militancy in Punjab, officials claim, served as the link between Taliban`s main leadership in South Waziristan and the increasingly threatening Punjabi Taliban network, a grouping of sectarian and Kashmir-focussed militant groups responsible for Taliban hits in Punjab and the federal capital.

Their arrest, being claimed by security agencies as a major breakthrough against the Taliban in Punjab, came after telephone intercepts by intelligence agencies and disclosures by Muhammad Aqil alias Dr Usman, who led the October 10 attack and was the only one to be arrested after the 22-hour hostage crisis in one of the headquarters` buildings.

Iqbal and Muhammad are said to be of the same ranking in the militant hierarchy as Aqil, who was also one of the TTP Shura members.

Security sources say the duo were involved in most of the major attacks in Punjab this year including the three coordinated attacks in Lahore on October 15.

The Taliban had stepped up attacks in Punjab and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) before the start of Rah-i-Nijat, the military operation to flush out terrorists from their South Waziristan stronghold, in a bid to stave off the offensive.

The Punjab government has been downplaying reports about the rise of the Punjabi Taliban.

"However, security analysts believe that the growing role of Punjabi Taliban has heightened the militant threat not only in Punjabi heartland, which has recently suffered multiple suicide bombings, but also in the rest of the country, because the Punjabi militants have increasingly taken control of the Taliban forces and are believed to be more lethal than their Pakhtoon counterparts", Dawn said.

Security analysts, however, were sceptical whether the arrests would break the back of the Taliban in Punjab, it added.


First Published: Friday, October 23, 2009 - 14:45
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