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Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 15:36 UK

Top Taliban arrested in Pakistan

Muslim Khan - 17042009
Muslim Khan was articulate and skilled in handling the media

One of the highest ranking Taliban officials in Pakistan has been arrested with four other senior militants in the country's north-west, officials say.

Muslim Khan was a key spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat valley as well as one of the most senior militant commanders in the region.

The army recently staged an offensive in Swat, which it declared a success.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says this is a milestone for the army's operation there.

One of the chief criticisms of the operation had been that it had failed to net the top Taliban leadership, our correspondent says. These are the first significant arrests.

"Five Taliban commanders, including Muslim Khan, were arrested in a raid," Pakistan army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC.

He gave no details of the raid but strongly denied local media reports that the men had been lured under the guise of talks by the army and then taken into custody.

"This is absolutely incorrect," he said.

Despite the latest arrests, the whereabouts and fate of the Taliban leader in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, are unknown.

After reports that he had been wounded and was close to death earlier this year, it was Muslim Khan that contacted the BBC to say the Taliban chief was "alive and healthy".

Muslim Khan is one of the most recognised faces of the Taliban in the Swat valley.

He frequently spoke to journalists on behalf of Maulana Fazlullah. He was articulate and skilled in handling the media, our correspondent says, giving interviews in both English and Arabic.

He spent two years as a seaman with a British shipping company in the 1970s and lived in the US in the late 1990s, where he worked as a house painter.

SWAT OFFENSIVE
Launched in April after militants took area 100km from Islamabad
Army says some 1,700 militants killed, but none of their leaders
One of biggest human migrations of recent times, with 2m displaced
Army says operation largely over in July, and residents begin return

The military earlier said Mr Khan was apprehended after a "successful operation".

He was held along with fellow militant Mahmood Khan, also reported to be one of the most senior Taliban commanders in Swat.

It is not clear when the operation took place.

The militants had rewards of 10 million rupees ($121,000) on their heads.

Mahmood Khan has been described as the commander of Kuza Banda in northern Swat, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Tribal militias

The latest fighting in the Swat valley began in April when Pakistani Taliban forces expanded their operations into districts only 96km (60 miles) from the capital.

Under the terms of a peace deal, militants were expected to disarm in exchange for the implementation of Sharia law throughout the Malakand division, which includes Swat valley.

Body of suspected militant in Swat
There is disquiet in Swat over the corpses of suspected militants

The army accused the Taliban of reneging on the deal. As the fighting intensified some two million people were displaced.

Although many have returned, there is still unrest and bloodshed in the troubled district. Fighting is still reportedly continuing in isolated pockets.

And in recent weeks, more than 200 corpses have been found across the valley.

The killings have been carried out execution-style and the bodies are believed to be of suspected Taliban.

Security forces have strenuously denied carrying out extrajudicial killings as part of their offensive. They claim local residents are behind the attacks.

While this remains unconfirmed, local residents have formed tribal militias to take on militants in what correspondents say is a new development for the region.

In early September, members of a local tribal militia killed three suspected insurgents.

The army has been encouraging the voluntary tribal fighting forces, which exist in other parts of north-west Pakistan.

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