Pakistani Authorities Probe Bomb-Plot Suspects

The suspects held in a plot to blow up planes bound from London to the U.S. had a common link: Pakistan. How is the investigation into the plot proceeding in the Islamic nation? Ahmed Rashid of The Daily Telegraph — author of Jihad: Islamic Movement in Central Asia — talks with Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

For more on the Pakistan connections of this alleged plot, we called author and journalist Ahmed Rashid. He says a week or so ago, Pakistani authorities arrested seven men in the Lahore and Karachi. Two of them were born in Britain.

AHMED RASHID: They haven't said anything else about them, except they have, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has said that it's possible that one of them belongs to al-Qaida, and in particular, they said al- Qaida in Afghanistan.

Now this raises some problems because there is a feud going on between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with each country accusing the other of hosting Osama Bin Laden.

And if he is al-Qaida, certainly it's well known that there are many Pakistanis who are members of al-Qaida, and it is possible that this could be either a facilitator for al-Qaida that is acting as a go-between between Pakistan and the group, the terrorist group in England, or is somebody, a regular member of al-Qaida in Pakistan who has been sent to England.

BLOCK: There are a number of reports that those who were arrested in Britain went back and forth to Pakistan, attended training camps in Pakistan. Do you know anything about that?

RASHID: Well, this is not something that we have had confirmed by anyone, but certainly last year, when the underground bombings took place in London, at least two of the four British-born Pakistanis had recently been to Pakistan and then had trained and had been in contact with extremist groups in Pakistan. So it's quite likely that some of these British-born Pakistanis may have traveled to Pakistan for training.

BLOCK: What do you think the sequence of events with these arrests, both in Britain and in Pakistan, shows about the level of cooperation between Pakistani and British and also U.S. intelligence?

RASHID: I think what has happened in this case is that according to the Pakistani authorities, the British and the Americans and the Pakistani intelligence have been on this case for many months, some say perhaps as many as eight months, and it seems that possibly the arrests in Pakistan, which may have been triggered off by the fact that somebody was about to fly off to Britain or somebody was about to disappear, maybe, into the mountains of (unintelligible).

Those arrests, in fact, then seemed to send a signal to the militants in England to perhaps go ahead with their attack, and I think once the arrests in Pakistan had been made, the British had no choice, I think, but to make the arrests in England fairly soon.

BLOCK: Would you assume that these intelligence agencies in Britain, the United States and in Pakistan are communicating openly, or are there tensions there that haven't been resolved?

RASHID: Well I think on this case in particular, I mean they are probably cooperating quite closely, and we've seen very close cooperation between the British and the Pakistani intelligence services last year when the underground bombings took place in London. And two of the bombers arrived in Pakistan, and Pakistani intelligence tracked where they all had gone on behalf of British intelligence.

I think, you know, the problem is here that as far as the Pakistanis are concerned, with individual cases, if it involves British Muslims or Arabs or anybody else, there is cooperation on a kind of case-by-case basis. But when it comes to pressure or the lack of international pressure from the Americans and the British on the Pakistani government to clamp down on extremism in general, that is check out the religious schools, close down these extremist parties that are operating here, on that, the government has been much slower.

BLOCK: Ahmed Rashid, thanks very much.

RASHID: Thank you.

BLOCK: Journalist Ahmed Rashid is author of the book Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. He spoke with us from Lahore, Pakistan.

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