Pakistan arrests suspect in Sri Lanka cricket attack

Pakistani police arrested a militant on Wednesday they suspect was involved in an attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Lahore in March.

Seven Pakistanis, including six police guards and the driver of a Sri Lankan team bus, were killed when gunmen ambushed them as they drove to a cricket stadium for a match.

The attack shocked the cricket-mad country and compounded fears about the spread of Islamist militants. Two months later, the army launched a big offensive against Pakistani Taliban in their Swat valley bastion, northwest of Islamabad.

Lahore police chief Pervez Rathor told reporters in the eastern city seven attackers had been identified and one had been arrested.

“We have broken up a Punjabi Taliban network and we have arrested an attacker who shot dead a policeman,” Rathor said, referring to Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

Militant violence has intensified steadily in nuclear-armed Pakistan over the past two years, to the alarm of the United States which needs Pakistani help to defeat al-Qaeda and bring stability to neighbouring Afghanistan.

The spread of the Taliban across northwest Pakistan, coupled with attacks in towns and cities like the one on the Sri Lankans, has raised fears for the country’s stability and for the safety of its nuclear arsenal.

But the United States has been heartened by the offensive in Swat, where the army has pushed the militants out of main towns.

Phone tap
Police said in a statement the suspect was arrested in Lahore through a trace on his cellphone. He had been trained in a Pakistani Taliban stronghold in Makeen, in South Waziristan on the Afghan border, for a suicide attack, police said.

The suspect, who police identified as Zubair, also known as Naik Mohammad, appeared at the news conference with a blanket over his head to hide his identity.

The man spoke briefly to reporters, saying he was one of seven gunmen and had arrived in Lahore two days before the attack.
He said he had stayed in a tiny room with a man who organised the attack he identified as Aqeel.

Rathor said the suspected attack mastermind, Aqeel, was wanted in connection with an attempt to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.

More than 1 300 militants have been killed in the fighting in Swat, a former tourist valley, since the offensive began. The military said on Wednesday afternoon 22 fighters had been killed and 17 captured in the previous 24 hours.

Independent casualty estimates are not available.

The military will soon launch an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in their main base area of South Waziristan, the government has said.

The fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest has displaced about 2,5-million people and aid officials have appealed to donors to step up their help.

Several hundred families had been helped back to their homes in Swat over the past two days, the military said in a statement.

Separately, the airport in the northwestern city of Peshawar was closed on Wednesday and all flights diverted because of a security warning, an airline official and Pakistani media said.

A civil aviation spokesperson confirmed the closure but said it was for an unspecified technical reason.—Reuters

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