Pakistan seeks help finding al-Qaeda

Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
KARACHI, Pakistan - Pakistan denounced Osama bin Laden and his top aides as "dangerous religious terrorists" Sunday and called for public help in hunting them down, five days after its first battlefield casualties in the fight against al-Qaeda fugitives.
Authorities did not cite any evidence that bin Laden is in Pakistan, but the rare public appeal came as Pakistani troops were scouring a remote region on the Afghan border, searching for dozens of al-Qaeda fighters after a firefight Wednesday that left 10 soldiers dead.
The call comes amid a widening crackdown on domestic extremists as part of FBI-assisted investigations into two recent deadly bombings and the kidnap-slaying earlier this year of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, which is considered a hub of militant activity.
The three-page statement from the Interior Ministry bears photographs of bin Laden, his chief deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and 17 other al-Qaeda figures under the rubric: "Dangerous Religious Terrorists."
"Those who kill innocent Pakistani people are the enemy of peace and country," said the Urdu-language statement. "Their purpose is terrorism and destruction. Their religion is only terrorism. Terrorism is not jihad. Support the Pakistani government against terrorism."
The statement quotes in Arabic from Islam's holy book, the Quran, and urges people with information about terrorists to contact police, who would treat sources and information as confidential. No reward money was offered. The appeal was carried in at least one Urdu-language newspaper in Karachi, though not papers in the capital, Islamabad.
In Pakistan's rugged North West Frontier Province, more than 3,000 Pakistani troops pressed ahead with door-to-door searches and manned vehicle checkpoints Sunday, looking for about 40 al-Qaeda suspects who escaped Wednesday's four-hour clash near Wana village, about 190 miles west of Islamabad. At least 20 people have been detained so far.
The region is controlled by fiercely independent, conservative tribesmen, many of whom support al-Qaeda or Afghanistan's toppled Taliban regime.
Some officials believe other top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders survived U.S. bombing of caves and camps in Afghanistan and may have slipped across the frontier, along with an estimated 1,000 fighters.
U.S. special forces operating in the region on the Afghan side have found weapons stockpiles but few fighters. Pakistan says it has arrested 300 suspected al-Qaeda members as they tried to cross the border.
Pakistan's government has faced a backlash from religious extremists since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf turned against the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and joined the international coalition against terrorism.
On Saturday, Karachi police released names and photos of 11 militants suspected in the bombings and the Pearl case, offering rewards totaling $320,000.
Pakistan has stepped up its sweep for suspects in the June 14 bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, which killed 12 Pakistanis, and the May 8 car bombing outside a Karachi hotel, which killed 11 French engineers and three other people, including the bomber.
Karachi was also the scene of the abduction of Pearl, the Journal's South Asia bureau chief, who disappeared Jan. 23 after leaving for a meeting with an Islamic militant contact. News organizations later received e-mails claiming responsibility for the kidnapping in the name of a previously unknown group.
The consulate received a videotape in February that showed Pearl dead. Remains believed to be Pearl's were recovered in Karachi last month. The trial of four men accused in the kidnap-killing is in its final stages, and police say more suspects are being sought.
On Saturday, Karachi police released names and photos of 11 militants suspected in the bombings and the Pearl case, offering rewards totaling $320,000.
Most of the suspects allegedly belong to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militant group that police have speculated may be working with al-Qaeda to take revenge on Westerners and the Pakistani government for the overthrow of the Taliban.
In the past two weeks, police have detained more than 70 people - including Saudis, Sudanese, Nigerians and Palestinians - in raids on mosques, religious schools and the offices of militant groups in Karachi and the eastern city of Lahore. None has been charged. Police say the detainees are being held for questioning in connection with the Karachi attacks.
The Associated Press Students of a religious school look at photos of wanted Islamic militants published in newspapers Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan.

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