ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani authorities have arrested 10 suspected Al Qaeda members, including a nephew of detained terror mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has been in US custody the past year, the interior minister said yesterday.
The men were arrested over the weekend in separate raids in the southern port city of Karachi, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.
Among them was Masrab Arochi, a nephew of former Al Qaeda number-three man Mohammed, who was captured in March 2003 in a city near the Pakistani capital. Arochi had a $1 million bounty on his head, Hayat said, and is believed to have been behind several attacks in Pakistan. ''It is a major breakthrough," Hayat said. ''We have made a big dent in the Al Qaeda network."
The interior minister said among those taken in were eight Central Asians, who confessed to a Thursday attempt to assassinate Lieutenant General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, the corps commander of Karachi. The general was unharmed, but 10 others died in the attack.
''They have confessed to a key role in the attack," said Hayat. ''They have a direct link to Al Qaeda."
A 10th suspect arrested in the past 24 hours was identified as the mastermind of two sectarian attacks in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in the past few months that left scores dead. Hayat did not reveal his name.
Hayat said the eight Central Asian men had all trained at Al Qaeda camps in South Waziristan, a tribal region near the Afghan border that is believed to be a possible hide-out for top Al Qaeda figures Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and others.
Hayat also said the group had been involved in two recent bombings at Shi'ite mosques in Karachi, and that their leader, identified by the single name Attaullah, was among the eight detained.
The Pakistani military has been engaged in four days of fierce fighting in the area that has left more than 50 suspected militants and 17 security forces dead.
Major General Shaukat Sultan, the chief army spokesman, said earlier yesterday that operations were winding down and that the army and paramilitary troops ''successfully dismantled and destroyed" militant hide-outs in the offensive.
Hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters said to be a mix of Arabs, Central Asians, Afghans, and Uzbeks are believed to be hiding in the area.
Pakistan is a key Washington ally in the war on terror, and has handed over more than 500 Al Qaeda suspects to the Americans since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. The decision to side with Washington has led to anger among many of Pakistan's own Islamic militant leaders, but Hayat vowed more of the same.
''Our campaign against terrorism will go on with the same conviction and intensity until they are completely eliminated," he said.
Mohammed, who is being held in US custody at an undisclosed location outside Pakistan, has family ties to at least one other major terrorist, convicted 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef. Yousef is serving a life sentence in the United States.