Pak policemen detain 50 in crackdown on banned outfits

Police in Pakistan's most populous province of Punjab have detained over 50 people in a crackdown on the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) that was launched in the wake of terror attacks on the minority Shia community.

The crackdown has focussed on the southern part of Punjab, where several militant groups like the LeJ and Jaish-e-Mohammed have strongholds and support bases. On Friday, police arrested LeJ chief Malik Ishaq at his home in Rahim Yar Khan district.

According a Punjab Police official, over 50 activists of the LeJ and SSP had been arrested from different parts of the province, including Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Faisalabad and Lahore. "They have been detained for a month under the Maintenance of Public Order law. The crackdown will continue," said the official who did not want to be named.

Among those detained in Lahore were Abdur Rau Moawaia, Muhammad Shafique and Asif Moawia. The Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), considered a front for the LeJ and SSP, condemned the arrests and said most of the detained men were its members. ASWJ leader Maulana Muhammad Awais claimed members of his group were being detained to "please" Shias.

The LeJ claimed responsibility for two devastating bomb attacks in the southwestern city of Quetta that killed nearly 200 people, a majority of them Shia Hazaras. The attacks triggered countrywide protests and led to the imposition of Governor's Rule in Balochistan.

Authorities launched the crackdown even as Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned the PML-N government in Punjab that he would use federal law enforcement agencies against LeJ if provincial authorities failed to act.

Malik has said the LeJ has its main base in Punjab and some 3,000 of its activists are present in the province.

Malik said he would order the Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan Rangers and other paramilitary forces to take action against the LeJ if the Punjab government fails to crack down on the group.

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