Pakistan says suicide attacks blocked

ANTI-TERROR PLANS: The government said arrests would soon be made in the bomb plot, while a senior US official held talks on fighting militants in tribal areas


Fri, Aug 17, 2007 - Page 5

Pakistan's security forces said yesterday that they had thwarted suicide attacks on independence day celebrations as a senior US official discussed the urgent terrorism threat with the country's leaders.

Militants had planned suicide attacks in the capital Islamabad on Tuesday, but security forces disrupted their plans, interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema said.

"Security forces have homed in on the gang plotting the attacks and they will soon be arrested," Cheema said.

Earlier reports quoted him saying that "would-be suicide bombers" had been arrested in Rawalpindi, a garrison town adjacent to the capital, and that more arrests were expected in the coming days.

The threat of attacks was highest for Tuesday's Independence Day, which marked 60 years since the country was founded after the partition of the Indian subcontinent at the end of British colonial rule, he said.

Cheema's comments came as US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher held talks with senior Pakistani officials to discuss strategy for dealing with terrorism.

Boucher called on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf late Wednesday at his camp in Rawalpindi after holding talks with Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri earlier in the day.

Officials said the Pakistani side sought assurances on reported US threats of unilateral military action against militants with bases inside the country.

They told the diplomat that any such action would be "counter-productive," the officials said.

During his hour-long meeting with Boucher, Musharraf had also conveyed Pakistan's concerns over recent US legislation linking security assistance to the country's progress in fighting militants, a presidential aide said.

Washington has criticized the Pakistani government for failing to deal with an escalating terrorist threat within its borders and the safe havens allegedly set up by Al-Qaeda in tribal regions.

Cheema said Boucher had expressed his appreciation for Pakistan's contribution to the fight against terrorism in a meeting early yesterday with security officials.

"The discussion today mainly focussed on the successful completion of the joint Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal meeting in Kabul last week and the strategy adopted in the light of the meeting," Cheema said.

He said a 50-member committee had been formed with delegates evenly divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"The US side expressed satisfaction over the strategy adopted for achieving results in the light of the decision made at the jirga council meeting," he said.

Security across the country has deteriorated in recent months as Islamic extremists sympathetic to al-Qaeda have launched attacks on troops in the northwest tribal regions and suicide bombings in major cities.

The nation is still reeling from the aftermath of a bloody two-day siege of Islamabad's Red Mosque, which was taken over by armed religious extremists.

Nationwide violence since the last month's siege, including 13 suicide attacks mainly in northwest Pakistan, has left nearly 300 people dead.