- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan has arrested a former spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar who was released by Afghanistan in 2007 in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist, security officials said Saturday.

Authorities detained Ustad Mohammed Yasir in the northwest city of Peshawar near the Afghan border, said an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

A Peshawar police official confirmed the arrest, but neither specified when it occurred.

Many Taliban and al-Qaida militants fled into Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban in 2001. The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to crack down on the militants, who have regrouped in the country’s lawless tribal areas and have been launching attacks against Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Many in the West have questioned whether Islamabad is able or willing to target the Taliban because Pakistan backed the hardline regime before its ouster.

Yasir served as Omar’s spokesman following the fall of the regime, said the intelligence official. Pakistan first arrested the former spokesman in 2005 and sent him to Afghanistan, where he was released along with four other Taliban figures for journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, the official added.

The Afghan and Italian governments were heavily criticized for the swap — a step many observers feared would encourage more kidnappings.

The Pakistani government also has faced a low-level insurgency in the southwest province of Baluchistan, where militant tribesmen accuse the national government of ignoring the region’s development needs while pocketing revenue from the region’s natural gas reserves.

Police blamed tribesmen for two attacks Saturday that killed three people and wounded 10 others.

A land mine killed two soldiers and wounded three others in the Baluchistan town of Uch when it exploded under their vehicle, said Mohammad Ishfaq Jamali, a local police officer.

Later in the day, suspected tribesmen hurled a hand grenade at a vehicle carrying soldiers in the provincial capital of Quetta, killing a civilian bystander and wounding seven others, said another police official, Mohammad Sharif.

The Baluch Republican Army, one of the main militant groups in the province, claimed responsibility for the land mine attack and for shooting at a passenger train Friday in an assault police said wounded 16 people.

Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar contributed to this report from Quetta.

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