Pakistan Cracks Down On Illegal Arab Immigrants
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan has launched a crackdown on illegal Arab immigrants, apparently to prevent any extremists among them from using Pakistan to foment violence in other countries.
Critics of the crackdown say the government has bowed to American fears that Muslim extremists are using Pakistan as a base from which they can plot terrorist acts, such as the World Trade Center bombing.
They say the Arabs are being branded as terrorists now that the war in neighboring Afghanistan is over. Thousands of Arabs came to Pakistan to help the U.S.-backed Muslim rebels oust a Soviet-supported regime in Kabul.
″The United States is the bloodsucker ... and Pakistan is a puppet to the Americans,″ said Abu Taha, a Jordanian who fought in Afghanistan and is familar with al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a radical fundamentalist group.
Several hundred Arabs have been picked up by police and asked to produce residency permits since the crackdown began last week. Most have been released, but about 100 who did not have proper documents are being held and will be deported or handed over to their embassies.
Among those held are nationals of Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, and Tunisia, as well as several Palestinians.
Pakistan International Airlines has been swamped with requests from Arabs trying to leave. Airline officials say most want tickets to Sudan, which has an Islamic fundamentalist government.
It is not clear how many Arabs live in Pakistan. Police chief Masud Shah said thousands of Arabs were in Pakistan during Afghanistan’s 14-year war.
Thousands of Arabs gathered in this city at the foot of the Khyber Pass. Peshawar was the headquarters of the Afghan rebels, who installed an Islamic government in Kabul in April 1992.
Pakistan’s fundamentalists, a small but powerful group in this predominantly Muslim nation, believe Washington ordered the crackdown on Arabs.
In mosques throughout Pakistan, clerics rail against what they charge is a betrayal of their Muslim brothers. Qasi Hussein Ahmed, head of Jamaat-e- Islami, Pakistan’s most powerful religious party, warned of a violent backlash.
The fundamentalists hold demonstrations almost daily, including a march Monday in Peshawar by demonstrators chanting anti-American slogans.
″We were not terrorist as long as we and the Americans had the same cause -to defeat a superpower,″ said Abu Saleh, an Arab watching the march. ″Now it doesn’t suit the American and Western interests so we are being branded terrorists.″
The most damning evidence linking Pakistan to outlawed Islamic groups was a fax sent to Cairo, Egypt, from Peshawar about a week after the Feb. 26 World Trade Center bombing.
It warned of attacks against Western interests and tourists in Egypt and was signed by followers of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, led by Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, whose two sons fought in Afghanistan.
Several suspects in the World Trade Center bombing in New York prayed at mosques in New York and New Jersey where Abdel-Rahman preaches.
Abdel-Rahman, whose group seeks to replace Egypt’s secular government with an Islamic state, has denied any involvement in the bombing.
Police picked up three people believed to have sent the fax, but local telegraph employees couldn’t identify them and they were released.
Abu Taha said al-Gamaa doesn’t have an office in Pakistan, although about 20 members live in Peshawar. Most members have fled to Afghanistan, he said.
Afghanistan’s most radical rebel leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and his rival Abdur Rasool Sayyaf have asked Pakistan to end the crackdown. Hekmatyar offered sanctuary to any Arab.