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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 20:35 GMT
Pakistan militants face crackdown
Arrested militant
Earlier drives against home-grown militants have had mixed results
Islamic militant groups are to face fresh curbs on their activities, government officials in Pakistan say.

A number of militant groups will be closed down in the "national interest" within the next 72 hours, according to a foreign ministry spokesman.

This weekend, police seized 16 militant suspects and sealed 25 offices.

The moves follow remarks by the US ambassador to Pakistan that militant groups targeted in earlier purges had renamed themselves to remain active.

'Al-Qaeda links'

The Pakistani authorities insist the crackdown is not linked to the ambassador's remarks.

"No such co-ordination or no such cue was given [by the US] to the government of Pakistan," said foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan.

Supporters of murdered Sunni radical, Azam Tariq
The ready availability of weapons has made the violence worse

"We have taken the decision in our own interest and this coincidence is just a coincidence."

Correspondents say many of the organisations named in the crackdown are also thought to have aided al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters, with whom they share an abhorrence for the US military presence in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Also on the Pakistani police's hit list are organisations accused of being active in the insurgency against Indian rule in the disputed, divided territory of Kashmir.

Same team, new name

Khudam-ul Islam and Tanzeem ul-Furqan, offshoots of the long-established militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, will be closed down.

Jaish-e-Mohammed is blamed by Indian authorities for a number of violent incidents in Kashmir and for a spectacular raid on the Indian parliament in December 2001.

However, Jamaat-ud-Dawa - another group linked to the parliament attack - is to be put under surveillance, but will escape closure.

The move is likely to anger India, where many believe Jamaat-ud-Dawa is the latest incarnation of Lashkar-e-Toiba, the militant group that allegedly also had a hand in the parliament attack and other bombings.

Sectarian extremists

The Sunni militant group, Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan, will face closures, arrests and the freezing of its financial assets.

Under the name of Sipah-e-Sahiba, the group was responsible for many attacks against Pakistan's minority Shias.

Police firing on protesters
Sectarian rallies have often sparked riots and unrest
Similarly, an organisation linked to arrested Shia leader Sajik Ali Naqvi is being shut down.

Islami Tehrik-e-Pakistan was responsible for retaliatory attacks against Sunni Muslims.

Pakistani authorities say they have also rounded up 400 Afghans living illegally in the city of Quetta and intend to interrogate them for links to Islamic extremists.

Critics say earlier Pakistani promises to rein in militants proved hollow - the groups lived on under new names, while their leaders canvassed openly for support.




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