ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani security forces have arrested a British Muslim believed to be wanted in connection with the July 7 London bombings, Pakistani intelligence sources said on Wednesday, but a minister denied he had been detained.
Several intelligence sources, who did not want to be identified, said Haroon Rashid Aswad was detained in the eastern city of Lahore earlier this week during a crackdown on militants in Pakistan that has seen more than 150 people detained.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed denied security forces had arrested Aswad, although the intelligence sources stood by their earlier comments.
"We have arrested nobody called Haroon Rashid," the minister told Reuters.
One of the intelligence sources said Aswad had been carrying a belt packed with explosives for a possible suicide attack and around one million rupees ($17,000) and a British passport.
Aswad appears to be the unnamed militant Reuters reported was captured on Monday and found with explosives and cash.
Various media, including Wednesday”s Asian Wall Street Journal, have reported that a search was still on for Aswad after his name was passed to Pakistani intelligence by British investigators.
The newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying Aswad”s name came up in the investigation based on information from the cellphone of one of the London bombers.
It also said a man named Aswad Rashid Haroon was included in U.S. intelligence databases as having ties to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
Speaking to BBC Radio, Pakistan”s high commissioner (ambassador) to London, Maleeha Lodhi, declined to go into specifics when asked about the arrest, on the grounds that this could compromise the investigation.
"But certainly people are being questioned in Pakistan and we ourselves have renewed a crack down on extremism."
President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, ordered a new crackdown on militants after revelations that three of the four London bombers were British Muslims of Pakistani descent who visited Pakistan before the attacks.
Officials say the three entered Pakistan via the southern city of Karachi last year and at least one visited Islamic schools, some of which are seen as militant breeding grounds.
Musharraf plans to address the nation on Thursday on the London bombings and the crackdown on Islamist militants.
Security forces on Tuesday detained more than two dozen suspects in a series of raids linked to investigations into the bombings, which killed at least 56 people.
More than 120 other suspects have been detained in a broader crackdown on militants not directly related to the investigation into the bombings, officials said.
In overnight raids on controversial Islamic religious schools, known as madrasas, and private houses, police detained 39 students and clerics belonging to banned organizations in the restive southern city of Karachi, authorities said.
Another 39 were detained in the northwestern city of Peshawar, 30 in the southwestern city of Quetta and 30 in the central city of Multan and some other cities in Punjab province.
"These people have been under surveillance for some time for their links to extremist groups," said senior police officer Malik Mohammad Saad of the Peshawar arrests.
"It”s an ongoing process," he said, but added that the raids were not linked to the London bombings.
An opposition grouping of six Islamist parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), complained that "dozens" of its workers had been detained around the country.
The MMA”s parliamentary leader Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said they included Sajid Farooqi, head of its Faisalabad chapter. He said Mufti Abrar, personal secretary to MMA Secretary-General Fazal-ur-Rehman, was detained in Islamabad but later released.