Pakistan police arrest hundreds of suspected militants

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, July 13, 2010 (AFP) - Police in Pakistan's northwest said Tuesday they had rounded up more than 650 suspected militants after a major bomb attack last week that left more than 100 dead.

The authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said a three-day crackdown began following the suicide bombing and car bomb that targeted a busy market town and killed 105 people, in the deadliest attack in Pakistan in nine months.

"Police have arrested more than 650 suspects in the last three days," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the province, formally known as North West Frontier Province, told AFP.

"This operation has been launched against those who are a cancer to our society and those with any links to militant groups," he said, adding that the operation was ongoing.

Police said paramilitary forces were taking part in the operation, focused in the provincial capital Peshawar and three nearby districts.

"We have arrested 410 suspects in Peshawar. We have also recovered arms and explosives from them and we are carrying more raids today," Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told AFP.

The Pakistani Taliban have already claimed responsibility for Friday's blasts, saying the target was a gathering of pro-government tribal elders.

They were the worst since a massive car bomb destroyed a market crowded with women and children in Peshawar in October 2009, killing 125 people.

Authorities said they have reports that militant groups are trying to carry more severe attacks in Peshawar and other parts of the province.

But relatives of those arrested in the crackdown said most of those detained were innocent.

"Police raided our house and arrested my brother. He is innocent and has nothing to do with militancy," Asad Ali Shah, a local journalist in Peshawar told AFP by telephone.

A Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked bombing spree across Pakistan has killed more than 3,500 people in three years since government troops besieged the radical Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad in July 2007.

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