Al-Qaeda members arrested for plot to kill Musharraf

Farhan Sharif and Khaleeq Ahmed, Bloomberg

Pakistan Rangers, the nation’s paramilitary force, said members of al-Qaeda were arrested in Karachi for allegedly plotting to kill President Pervez Musharraf.

“There have been arrests but I cannot tell you how many were arrested or when,” Major Asad Ali, spokesman for Pakistan Rangers, said in a phone interview from Karachi today. “These operations are conducted jointly by intelligence agencies.”

Pakistani intelligence agencies arrested members of al- Qaeda who said they planned to kill Musharraf on his next trip to Karachi by blowing up a bridge that leads from the airport into the city, Online news agency reported today, citing unidentified people.

Musharraf has survived at least three assassination attempts by Islamic extremists since he ended support for the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in 2001.

Musharraf’s spokesman Rashid Qureshi said he had no information about the arrests.

“It seems to me that if it were true, the president would have been told,” Qureshi said in a phone interview from Islamabad today.

Those arrested also said two more attacks had been planned in case Musharraf survived the first one, Online reported. Law enforcement officials seized ammunition from those arrested.

“I am neither confirming nor denying the report,” said Azhar Ali Farooqi, Karachi’s police chief. “There are various agencies working on anti-terrorism cases.”

Musharraf became a target for religious extremists after he backed the U.S. war on terrorism following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Five bombs were remotely detonated on Dec. 14, 2003, near a bridge in the garrison town of Rawalpindi less than a minute after Musharraf passed. Two suicide bombers crashed their car into the president’s motorcade 11 days later, killing 14 people and wounding 46 others. In 2002, a bomb planted in a parked car failed to detonate in Karachi.

Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule for a second time on Nov. 3, saying “terrorism and extremism had peaked throughout the country.” As many as 600 people have been killed in suicide bombings in Pakistan since July, the army has said.

Musharraf also fired judges including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, saying the judiciary was hampering the fight against terrorism.

Chaudhry was named lawyer of the year by the National Law Journal today, which said he has become “an international symbol of resistance to the excesses of military rule.”

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto survived an assassination attempt in Karachi in October when twin suicide bombers attacked her homecoming procession, killing 136 people.