Sun, Dec 12, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Pakistani police arrest 14 Quetta bomber suspects


Police yesterday said they arrested 14 alleged members of a nationalist group in connection with a bomb attack in southwestern Pakistan that killed 11 people.

As many as 26 people were also wounded when a powerful bomb went off next to an army truck parked at a crowded market in Quetta on Friday, the latest in a series of bomb and rocket attacks against government forces in Baluchistan province.

Hours after the blast, a little-known militant group, the Baluchistan National Army, claimed responsibility, but said it had not meant to kill civilians. Two of the dead were soldiers.

Yesterday, Pervez Rafi Bhatti, a senior police officer, said 14 men were captured in overnight raids in different parts of the province by police acting on intelligence reports.

"These men are nationalists, but I cannot say whether any of them is directly or indirectly linked to Friday's attack," Bhatti said in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

Mir Azad Baluch, calling himself the group's spokesman, called a reporter on Friday to claim responsibility for the bombing and warned of more attacks to come.

"Our target was the army truck and the soldiers," Baluch said.

He warned the group would "continue to target military personnel until the federal government abandons plans to set up new garrisons in Baluchistan, and gives the people of our province their due share from the resources."

The group has been trying to pressure authorities to give the province more returns from natural gas extracted in the region. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf on Friday said the blast was perpetrated by people "working against peace and development in the country."

Musharraf's counterterrorism efforts have made him a key ally of the West against religious extremism, but have drawn criticism at home from those uneasy over his strong ties with Washington.

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