Pakistani officials arrest alleged mastermind of car bombing

Thursday, September 19, 2002

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Pakistan's government announced the arrest Wednesday of a Pakistani suspected of masterminding the May 8 car bombing that killed 11 French engineers and three other people -- the deadliest terrorist attack on foreigners in Pakistan this year.

A government statement said the suspect was among seven Pakistanis seized in raids throughout Karachi, and a large quantity of weapons was also seized. It did not identify the suspect.

A senior police official said he was also believed involved in the June 14 car bombing at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and two attempts to kill President Pervez Musharraf. Twelve Pakistanis were killed in the consulate attack.

Some of the arrests were made near a Karachi convention center where Musharraf visited Tuesday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

All those arrested were believed to be members of an offshoot of the al-Qaida-linked group Harkat-ul-Mujahdeen, a militant organization fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

The May car bombing led to an exodus of foreign diplomats, businessmen and their families from Pakistan's largest city.

The French victims were engineers at France's state-owned naval construction service who were building a second Agosta submarine Pakistan purchased from France. They were preparing to board a bus to go to work when the car bomb exploded.

Suspicion fell on Islamic extremists seeking revenge for Musharraf's decision to abandon support for the Afghan Taliban and back the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

There was also suspicion that al-Qaida fugitives may have been involved, because of the sophistication of the bomb and because Pakistani extremist groups had no history of suicide attacks.

Western and Pakistani security officials believe al-Qaida operatives fleeing Afghanistan linked up with Pakistani extremists to stage attacks against foreigners and Pakistani leaders.

Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, or Movement of Holy Warriors, was among 27 groups and individuals whose assets were frozen by the United States, Pakistan and other countries after the Sept. 11 attacks.

During the U.S. bombing campaign against the Taliban last year, Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen announced that 22 of its fighters were killed in a U.S. air raid on Kabul in October.

Those arrested Wednesday were said to be members of the offshoot Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen Al-Alami. Three members of that faction are on trial for the U.S. Consulate bombing. Five other members were arrested this month in what police said was an attempt to kill Musharraf at an April 27 ceremony in Karachi.

Five others from the same group were arrested last week for allegedly planning terrorist attacks on American fast-food restaurants in Pakistan.

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