Arab fighters revolt in Pakistan

The Washington Post

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Several dozen Arab fighters captured by Pakistani forces after fleeing across the border from Afghanistan overpowered their guards Wednesday and set off a gunbattle in which 13 people were killed and some of the Arabs escaped, Pakistani authorities said.

The prisoners, believed to be members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization, were from a group of about 150 fleeing fighters, most of them Arabs, who were taken into custody by Pakistani border guards Tuesday night. They were the largest group of foreign combatants apprehended by Pakistani authorities since al-Qaida forces were routed this week by U.S. bombing and U.S.-coordinated guerrilla attacks in the mountainous Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan.

The gunfight killed at least six Pakistani guards and seven of the rebellious Arab fighters, according to the North-West Frontier provincial authority. Media reports said that about 20 of the escapees remained on the loose.

Since their defeat, an unknown number of al-Qaida fighters have been trying to sneak across the border, seeking hideouts in Pakistan’s lightly policed tribal areas, Pakistani military officials said. U.S. officials have urgently requested Pakistani help in capturing them. Implicit in the U.S. concern is the possibility that bin Laden could be among them.

The crisis on Pakistan’s western border has intensified just as tensions mount with India on the eastern border over last Thursday’s attack by gunmen on the Parliament building in New Delhi. The simultaneous crises have strained the 600,000-strong Pakistani military, particularly its ability to transport troops.

"Two active borders are something one would never wish," said Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for the military government in Islamabad, headed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistani sources said U.S. personnel had been awaiting the prisoners’ arrival to interrogate them, seeking information on the whereabouts of bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders.

To aid the hunt for al-Qaida fugitives, the United States has entered discussions with the Pakistani military to provide U.S. helicopters to transport the Pakistani troops in swift reaction to reports of border crossings, according to sources. In addition, Pakistani officials said, the Pakistani military has dispatched small scouting patrols into Afghan territory south of Tora Bora to spot al-Qaida groups headed for the border.

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