By Riaz Khan, AP
PESHAWAR, Pakistan–Pakistani security forces captured a key Taliban commander linked to a 2003 assassination attempt on former President Pervez Musharraf, officials said Wednesday as a U.S. drone strike killed 15 militants near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
Adnan Rashid, a former air force officer-turned-militant, was arrested during a raid last Friday on a militant hideout in Pakistan’s troubled northwestern tribal region, following a tip from local sources, two intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
The troops raided a home in the town of Shakai in the South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Three associates of Rashid were also captured, and were being questioning at an undisclosed location, the officials said.
Rashid was hiding at the home after fleeing from North Waziristan, where the military in June launched a much-awaited operation against militants, the officials said.
The Pakistani army has not confirmed the arrest, which marks the first major capture in the operation.
In 2003, a suicide bomber tried to ram Musharraf’s vehicle near Islamabad. Rashid was later convicted over the assassination attempt and imprisoned, but escaped during a jail break orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012.
The officials said Rashid was also involved in several other terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
Also Wednesday, an American drone fired four missiles at a militant-hideout in in the town of in Datta Khel in North Waziristan, killing at least 15 militants, two other Pakistani officials said. The identity and nationality of the slain men was not immediately known.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
U.S. drone strikes are a serious source of tension between Washington and Islamabad. The Pakistani government regularly denounces the strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The latest drone took place in the same North Waziristan region where the military operation against local and foreign militants is underway.
On Wednesday, the military carried out fresh airstrikes in the Shawal valley in North Waziristan, killing 35 militants. In a statement, the military said the air strikes were launched to target “fleeing terrorists.”
The air strikes came a day after the military said it had cleared the main North Waziristan town of Miran Shah of militants and also launched a ground operation in another key town of Mir Ali. An army statement Tuesday said 11 militants were killed in a gunbattle in Mir Ali, as well as five soldiers.
The military says it has killed more than 450 militants so far in the North Waziristan operation, while it lost over two dozen soldiers. Over 800,000 people have fled the area before and after the start of the operation, which the military says is aimed at “eliminating terrorists and their hideouts.”