Pakistan arrests top aides to Sufi Mohammad

Pakistan’s army said June 5 it has arrested senior associates of the radical Islamist cleric Sufi Mohammad, in the country’s northwest. Six men, including Sufi Mohammad’s deputy Maulana Mohammed Alim, spokesman Ameer Izzat Khan, and aide Syed Wahab were detained, officials said. Mohammad is the father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, Taliban leader in the Swat valley where the army is battling militants.

“Following a tip-off, the security forces raided a madrassa located in Aman Darra area,” the army said in a statement. The statement also said that three Afghan nationals were arrested in the raid. Officers seized eight hand grenades and other explosives from the site. The arrests come as US envoy Richard Holbrooke is in the region.

Sufi Mohammad was instrumental in brokering the peace deal between the Taliban and the government imposing Sharia law in the Swat district. This later fell apart, when Taliban fighters moved into neighboring districts. He is also the founder of a banned militant group, Tehrik Nizam Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM).

Sufi Mohammad himself is believed to be in hiding. Two of his sons, Ziaullah and Rizwanullah, are also said to be missing. Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, said in a statement last night that the army had “turned the tide” against the Taliban and reiterated that the army aimed to completely eradicate them from the Swat valley.

A statement on June 3 said Charbagh—about 20 kilometers north of Mingora, the main town in Swat valley—had been retaken. Troops had also “successfully secured Pir Baba and Bhai Kalay” in neighboring Buner district, where heavy fighting has gone on for weeks. More than two million people have been displaced by the fighting. (BBC News, June 5)

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