Musharraf assassination plot foiled
KARACHI, Pakistan -- A third plot to assassinate Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has been revealed as security services step up their arrests of suspected Islamic terrorists.
A total of 12 suspects have been taken into custody so far this week from raids targeting the Karachi-based Al-Almi militant group.
The group is believed to be responsible for two thwarted assassination attempts on President Musharraf and for recent attacks on Western and U.S. interests in Pakistan.
Those attacks included a car bomb in May that killed 11 French engineers and two Pakistanis and the June bombing outside the U.S. consulate that killed 14 Pakistanis.
And Pakistan's intelligence services thwarted a third bombing attempt on the president on Thursday, but it is believed this attempt is not related to Al-Almi.
The third plot was revealed by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage during testimony to a joint hearing of the Senate and House intelligence committees into last year's September 11 attacks, Reuters reports.
Al-Almi is believed to be a domestic terror group set up in response to Musharraf's strong support for the U.S.-led coalition action against Afghanistan.
It is unclear, however, to what extent it may have ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah said Thursday seven of the suspects arrested earlier in the week were wanted in relation to the US consulate blast and an April 26 plan to assassinate Musharraf, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reports.
But he rejected suggestions the suspects were about to execute a third plot to kill the president.
Al Qaeda links
Shah also said police had so far found no evidence linking these suspects with al Qaeda.
But international intelligence sources say Al-Almi is an offshoot of the Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, one of the major groups fighting India in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The agencies say it is trained and supported by al Qaeda.
On Wednesday, the government announced one of the seven men captured was a person known as Sharib.
Officials initially said he was believed to have masterminded the May car bombing but Shah said there was no evidence of his involvement in that attack.
Shah said Sharib was believed involved in the U.S. consulate bombing, and that he had personally driven an explosive laden vehicle in one of the unsuccessful attempts on Musharraf's life in April.
Five more suspects were arrested Thursday by Pakistani police working with FBI investigators, Associated Press reports.
Among those arrested was the owner of a soft drinks and ice cream shop in Karachi, identified only as Masood, who allegedly stored weapons and sheltered members of al-Almi, a senior police official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Four suspected associates of Masood were taken into custody in the overnight raids on their homes in three Karachi neighborhoods.
The successes against Al-Almi coincide with a breakthrough last week against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Karachi police and intelligence agents, using information gathered by the FBI, arrested about a dozen al Qaeda suspects, including Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, believed to be a key organizer of the September 11 terror attacks, The Associated Press reports.
Bin al-Shibh and four others were handed over to U.S. custody Monday and flown out of the country.
Musharraf says the latest arrests show that Pakistan has broken the back of the domestic terror network.
He told The Associated Press last week the recent crackdown had brought results, since there had been no serious attacks in Pakistan in more than two months.
"All the first-string operators are behind bars except a very very few," he said.