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Asia-pacific

Army claims capture of Taliban commander in Swat

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-16

Pakistan's military says it has captured Taliban commander Sher Muhammad Qasab in the Swat valley. It is the third high-profile arrest announced in five days and part of Islamabad's continuing campaign to regain control of the north-western district.

AFP - Pakistan said troops captured a wounded Taliban commander Wednesday, closing in on wanted chieftains in Swat following a two-year Islamist uprising in the former tourist paradise.
  
It is the third high-profile arrest announced in five days. Analysts have welcomed the detentions as a breakthrough in Pakistan's bid to win back control of territory and eliminate what US officials have called an existential threat.
  
The military said Sher Muhammad Qasab was the Taliban commander in Charbagh, in the heart of the mountainous northwest district where Pakistan launched its most determined assault to date against Islamist militants in May.
  
Swat had slipped out of government control after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah rose up in July 2007, commanding thousands of followers who beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought to enforce Islamic law.
  
Qasab was one of 15 Swat commanders commanding a 10-million-rupee (120,000 dollar) bounty. The army said he was injured and arrested in a military operation in which three of his sons were killed and another captured.
  
"He was injured during an exchange of fire with security forces. In the same exchange of fire, three of his sons were killed," Colonel Akhtar Abbas, the military spokesman in Swat, told AFP by telephone.
  
"Troops encircled him for days," a military official told AFP in Peshawar, which serves as administration centre for northwest Pakistan.
  
Another military official said a fourth son survived the fighting but was also arrested with his father.
  
Wednesday's arrest was the third from Pakistan's list of most-wanted Taliban militants in Swat announced in less than a week. The list is headed by Fazlullah who has 50 million rupees (more than 600,000 dollars) on his head.
  
A military spokesman in Swat accused Qasab of personally beheading members of the security forces and setting fire to a dozen girls' schools in different parts of the valley, where Westerners once went skiing.
  
"He was running a slaughter centre at Charbagh where he himself used to slaughter opponents and security personnel," Abbas said.
  
In urdu, the official language in Pakistan, Qasab means butcher, which was his profession before joining the militants.
  
On Friday, Pakistan announced the arrest of the Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan and Mahmood Khan, a northern commander.
  
Pakistan launched a blistering offensive against the Taliban after militants marched out of Swat and advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital Islamabad in April. The military now says the area is clear.
  
The International Institute for Strategic Studies warned this week that Pakistan had become the "key battleground" for Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who fled the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  
The London-based think tank said Pakistan is the "biggest source of instability" for Afghanistan but that "a more benign environment could emerge" across the border if the country succeeds in quelling the unrest.

Date created : 2009-09-16

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