Pakistani authorities arrest 23 suspected al-Qaida members

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani authorities arrested 23 men suspected of links to al-Qaida in late night raids in two cities as they continued to track down terrorists seeking refuge their nation, police said Thursday.

In a raid in the North West Frontier Province, authorities arrested 21 men belonging to the outlawed Islamic militant group Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, police official Ilyas Khan said by phone.

The men were picked up Wednesday night and were sent to an interrogation center in Mansehra, 180 miles northwest of Peshawar, Khan said.

Police also seized weapons and terrorist-training manuals from the militants' safe-house, Khan said.

In a raid in the eastern Punjab provincial capital of Lahore, also Wednesday night, two Tunisian men suspected of belonging to al-Qaida were arrested near a known safe-house, said a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the men were now under interrogation, but would not provide details.

Suspects questioned

In the last week, authorities have arrested some 100 people in Pakistan for suspected links with al-Qaida, and police sources say those taken into custody have provided information that has led to further arrests.

One of those arrested, Abu Zubaydah, was a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden and is now in American custody.

Officials will not say where he is being held, citing security reasons.

In addition, police and intelligence agencies in Lahore are convinced that one of the 16 al-Qaida suspects they arrested Monday, Abdul Hadi, had "access" to the terrorist organization's leadership, according to police sources.

The others arrested in the same raid included Saudis, Syrians, Egyptians, Afghans and Pakistanis. One of the Pakistanis, identified as Riaz Ismail, provided the al-Qaida cell with food, U.S. dollars and equipment and manuals for manufacturing homemade bombs, intelligence officials said.

The militant group Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, formerly called the Ansar Movement, was founded to fight the Indian army in disputed Kashmir and maintained close ties to al-Qaida for years.