LAHORE, Pakistan — Authorities arrested six suspected Taliban militants with a suicide vest and hand grenades allegedly on their way today to attack a five-star hotel and kill Americans in Pakistan’s cultural capital, said police.
The eastern city of Lahore has suffered a spate of bombings at markets and security installations in recent years as the Taliban have expanded attacks beyond their main sanctuary in the northwest. Militants have also targeted hotels and restaurants in other parts of Pakistan popular with Westerners.
The militants arrested today on the outskirts of Lahore included a 14-year-old boy and a prayer leader from Pakistan’s Khyber tribal area near the Afghan border, said police official Zulfikar Hameed. The prayer leader was wearing a vest packed with explosives. They told police they were targeting Americans at the Pearl Continental hotel, he said.
“We think they were on their way to launch the attack,” said Hameed. “They told us that Americans are responsible for the death of every innocent Muslim in the so-called war on terror.”
Police seized 26 hand grenades and five detonators from the militants, who were traveling by car and motorcycle, said Hameed. Despite their intentions, the men didn’t know for certain whether any Americans were staying at the hotel, he said.
A Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber struck the Pearl Continental hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar in June, killing nine people. A suicide truck attack against the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in 2008 killed more than 50 people.
Pakistan suffers from frequent political violence as well.
Gunmen attacked a vehicle carrying a former Pakistani government minister just outside the capital today, killing at least three of his aides shortly after he gave a campaign speech for a vacant parliamentary seat.
The attack against former Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad occurred in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, said police official Atlaf Ahmad.
The former minister was wounded in the leg, but it was not clear whether he was shot or injured himself as he fell out of the vehicle, said Ahmad’s spokesman, Javed Qureshi.
Ahmad served as information minister under former President Pervez Musharraf but lost his seat in an election held in early 2008.