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Pakistan arrests nine linked to al Qaeda

Government: Militants took part in recent deadly fighting

From CNN Producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi

General Shaukut Sultan said many soldiers' bodies had been mutilated.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani authorities have arrested nine people linked to al Qaeda who are believed to have been involved in recent attacks in Karachi, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said.

One of those arrested includes a close associate of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the minister said Sunday.

The nine were arrested together in one raid, and weapons and explosives were seized with them, Ahmed said.

He said all nine were involved in several deadly attacks, including bombings over the last few weeks.

Among those arrested was Mussad Aruchi, described by Pakistani officials as a close associate of Mohammed.

At the time of his arrest, Aruchi had a bounty of $1 million on his head, Ahmed said. Mohammed was captured by Pakistani security in March 2003.

U.S. federal officials have said he has been cooperating in providing information about the al Qaeda organization and its members.

Sunday's arrests are the latest in Pakistan's effort to find and destroy suspected al Qaeda strongholds.

Within the past four days, Pakistani troops have pounded a cluster of suspected militant hideouts and a training facility believed to be affiliated with the terror organization.

The weekend began with mortar and small-arms fire in a lawless tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.

Those attacks Friday marked continued clashes that have killed 50 people since the battles began midweek, the military said.

The army said it had killed 35 insurgents. Fifteen security forces were killed in an attack on a checkpoint Wednesday, army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.

He said the army had retrieved the soldiers' bodies, many of which had been mutilated.

Sultan said the offensive focused on three al Qaeda-linked compounds -- a training facility, a safe house and the home of an alleged terror financier -- near the town of Shakai, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Wana, the largest town in South Waziristan.

Tension has been building in South Waziristan during the past month as authorities have pressured tribesmen to evict hundreds of Central Asian, Arab and Afghan militants, many of whom moved there from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

The militants have refused to surrender and register with authorities despite a government amnesty offer that would allow them to settle in Pakistan if they renounced terrorism.

The army said it would grant an amnesty to any locals it deemed "facilitators" of the foreign fighters if they agreed to surrender.

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