Pakistani Police Arrest 200 Members of Militant Group
Some 200 members of Pakistani militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir were arrested here overnight amid a crackdown by the Sindh provincial government, police said Wednesday.
Sindh Senior Superintendent of Police Manzoor Mughal said militant outfits had defied a ban against publicly raising funds for jihad (holy war) and displaying banners advertising their cause.
"Since they decided to defy the ban we detained some 200 activists of different jihadi organizations in overnight raids," he told AFP.
"We have also taken away their donation boxes."
The southern Pakistani province on Monday announced the ban on public fund-raising in the name of jihad and ordered Islamic militant outfits to remove signboards from their offices.
Militant leaders have vowed to ignore the order but their offices were closed around this southern port city on Wednesday.
"We have removed sign boards from the offices of Al-Badar and Harkatul Mujahideen... while more will be removed later today," Karachi southern district police chief Majeed Dasti said.
There are about 150 militant group offices in different parts of Karachi, as well as various religious seminaries where young men are taught to sacrifice themselves for holy war.
"The total number of arrests can be much higher then 200," Dasti said.
The provincial spokesman of one of the most hardline Kashmir militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba, said the military government of President Pervez Musharraf was crumbling under international pressure.
"The present government should learn a lesson from the past governments, who also tried to crush the mujahideen (holy warriors) but failed," Lashkar spokesman Abdullah Muntazir said.
India accuses Pakistan of abetting so-called "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir and although Islamabad denies the allegations, it is under pressure to reel in Islamic extremists based around the country.
A Muslim separatist rebellion against Indian rule in Kashmir has raged for 12 years at the cost of more than 35,000 lives.
"All jihadi groups have welcomed Pervez Musharraf's bold stance on Kashmir ... but it appears certain forces have forced him to take a U-turn policy against us," said Muntazir.
"People of Pakistan are with us and whenever we give the call for jihad ... the people of this country will respond," he said.
Federal interior ministry officials have said "forcible" collection of funds for jihad was already outlawed in Pakistan but could not say if there would be a nationwide ban on public donation boxes.
Officials in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province and the key area of public support for jihad groups, said there were no plans to follow Sindh's move.
Police in the Punjab capital Lahore last week arrested more than 200 people in a similar sweep against sectarian extremist groups blamed for hundreds of religious murders in Pakistan in recent years.
Those raids followed the imposition of a ban on underground Sunni extremist outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and its Shiite counterpart Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan.
Musharraf has also warned two extremist parties, Sunni group Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Shiite group Tehreek-i-Jafria Pakistan (TJP), that they were under close scrutiny -- KARACHI (AFP)
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