Pakistan orders detention of prominent militant

September 22, 2011 - 5:35 AM
Pakistan

Mourners attend funeral prayer of the victims of Tuesday's shooting incident in Quetta, Pakistan on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Suspected Sunni extremists opened fire on Shiite Muslim pilgrims traveling by bus through southwest Pakistan on their way to in Iran, killing 26 people, officials and survivors said. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government placed a prominent Islamist militant under temporary house detention because of his attempts to stoke conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims since his release from prison two months ago, police said Thursday.

Malik Ishaq, a founder of the banned Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was accused in dozens of killings, including many of minority Shiites, but was released on bail in July after 14 years in prison because the Supreme Court decided there was not enough evidence to keep holding him.

He has been giving public speeches since his release whipping up anger toward Shiites, who make up about 15 percent of the population, said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The Punjab provincial government on Wednesday ordered that Ishaq remain at home for 10 days, said Sohail Chatta, the police chief in Rahim Yar Khan district where Ishaq lives.

Ishaq's behavior endangered "sectarian harmony and caused a sudden rise in sectarian temperature in the country," said Chatta.

Most Sunnis and Shiites live together peacefully in Pakistan, but the country also has a long history of extremists on both sides carrying out attacks against the opposite sect. In recent years, many of these attacks have involved Sunnis targeting Shiites.

Suspected Sunni extremists opened fire on Shiite pilgrims traveling by bus through southwest Pakistan on Tuesday on their way to Iran, killing 26 people, officials and survivors said.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility in a telephone call to a local journalist in Quetta, but that claim could not be verified.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan became the scene of a proxy war between mostly Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with both sides funneling money to sectarian groups that regularly targeted each other.

Ishaq was arrested in 1997, and has been accused of a slew of crimes. In 2009, he was blamed for orchestrating an attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Six security officers and a driver died in that assault.

His release underscored the difficulty Pakistani prosecutors have had convicting suspects in a justice system that lacks resources, is plagued by corruption and is rife with tales of witness intimidation.

Also Thursday, a pickup truck carrying anti-Taliban militiamen hit a roadside bomb in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, killing five people and wounding eight others, said Adalat Khan, a local government administrator in the Bajur tribal area where the incident took place.

Three of the dead were men who had taken up arms against the Taliban and the bomb was likely targeting them, said Khan.

The government has encouraged the formation of anti-Taliban militias, or lashkars, and their members have repeatedly been targeted by the militants.

Elsewhere in the northwest, security forces killed three militants and arrested two others who were holed up with weapons in a house in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley, said army spokesman Col. Arif Mahmood. Two of the militants were shot dead overnight by security forces, and the third blew himself up, said Mahmood.

The Taliban controlled Swat until the army launched a large offensive in 2009. Mingora has been fairly peaceful since then, but the clash could stoke fears of militant resurgence.

In the south, two children were killed and 11 others were wounded Thursday when an explosive they were playing with, likely a hand grenade, blew up, said police officer Abdullah Shaikh. The incident took place in Meo Takkar village in Sindh province, where hundreds of people have taken refuge to escape floods wracking large parts of the south. It is unclear where the children got the hand grenade, said Shaikh.

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Associated Press writers Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Sherin Zada in Mingora, and Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.