KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistani police have arrested two Islamic militants suspected of involvement in a suicide attack on a Shi”ite Muslim mosque that killed five people in the southern city of Karachi last month, police said on Tuesday.
The pair, arrested in an overnight raid in Karachi, told investigators up to 20 suicide bombers were still at large in the city, Pakistani”s commercial hub, the police said.
Fayyaz Khan, a deputy superintendent of police, said the men were members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an underground militant group with ties with Afghanistan”s former Taliban regime and al Qaeda, and had been arrested with explosives and firearms.
One, Mufti Altaf alias Mufti Shahid, was supposed to carry out the suicide bombing on the minority Shi”ite Madinatul Ilm mosque on May 30 but was replaced at the last moment.
Khan named the other man as Bilal Farooqi and added that police were trying to establish the identity of the suicide bomber.
Two assailants were killed in the attack, including one who blew himself up, while a third was critically wounded.
The attack came three days after a suicide bombing at a Muslim festival in the capital Islamabad that killed at least 19 people, mostly Shi”ite Muslims.
Investigators suspect Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in both attacks and some Pakistan intelligence agents believe there could be a link between the incidents and a suicide bombing of a mosque in the Afghan city of Kandahar last Wednesday that killed 20 people.
Khan said investigators were trying to trace up to 20 suicide bombers the arrested men said were at large in Karachi, which has been the scene of frequent militant attacks since Pakistan joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism in late 2001.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is one of Pakistan”s most feared militant groups and has been implicated in attacks on Western targets in Karachi, including the murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, and in two attempts to kill President Pervez Musharraf.
In an interview published on Monday, Musharraf said recent violence was purely sectarian and there had been no attacks in Pakistan linked to al Qaeda or the Taliban in more than a year.
The suicide attacks followed the capture of senior al Qaeda operative Abu Faraj Farj al Liby in Pakistan last month.
Musharraf said al Liby, who U.S. counter-terrorism agents say became al Qaeda”s third most important figure two years ago and is wanted for two attempts on the Pakistani president”s life in 2003, had been handed over to the United States.