Pakistan Cracks Down on Illegal Arabs
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan has arrested hundreds of Arab nationals in a crackdown on suspected Islamic militants in the country illegally.
Police in the frontier city of Peshawar, at the foot of the famed Khyber pass, began the crackdown Tuesday. The detainees crowd the mud-walled prisons.
According to Interior Minister Shujaat Hussein, police are trying to flush out militant Arab nationals hiding in Pakistan.
″We cannot allow any terrorist activity on the soil of Pakistan,″ Hussein said.
In the early 1980s, thousands of Arabs came to Pakistan to join what they called a holy war against the then-Communist regime in neighboring Afghanistan. A year ago, when U.S.-backed rebels overran Kabul and ousted the old Communist regime, many of the Arabs stayed behind.
According to several Afghan and Arab sources, some had links to radical Islamic groups, including the Al-Gammat-e-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, led by Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.
Several of the suspects in the World Trade Center bombing in New York had links to the blind cleric.
Two top leaders of Al-Gammat are reportedly living in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, said Arab and Afghan sources.
The Interior Minister said any Arab nationals arrested and found to be wanted in their home countries would be deported.
The Arabs arrested in Peshawar are from Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel’s occupied West Bank.
The governments of Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia have sent Pakistan a list of fugitives, many of whom are believed to be in either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Many of the Arabs in Afghanistan are aligned to either radical fundamentalist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or orthodox rebel leader Abdur Rasool Sayyaf.
Last week at a meeting in Bonn, Germany, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a crackdown on militant Arab fundamentalists seeking refuge in his country.
But many people question Pakistan’s ability to follow through on that promise.
The porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is difficult to patrol, said Hussein, who has issued an order outlawing foreigners from the semi- autonomous tribal area.
Pakistan fears the presence of Arab militants could land it on Washington’s list of states sponsoring terrorism.
But Hussein said even Washington embraced fundamentalist Arabs during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
″Now the West will have to be patient while we try to get rid of them,″ he said.