- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan arrested the spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat Valley and four other senior commanders, the military said Friday, in the latest of several victories against militants in the country’s northwestern region close to Afghanistan.

The arrests are a coup for the military, which had been criticized for failing to capture or kill any top Taliban leaders in a four-month offensive in the Swat Valley that cleared the insurgents from most of the one-time tourist haven.

The army announced the arrests on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Drawing attention to that fact, the military released photos of the two highest-ranking detainees - spokesman Muslim Khan and commander Mahmood Khan - in custody with the date printed in bold underneath.

An army statement said the two Khans and commanders Fazle Ghaffar, Abdul Rehman and Sartaj Ali were arrested in the suburbs of Mingora, the Swat Valley’s main city. It did not say when. The Khans had bounties of $121,000 on their heads, the army said.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik urged other commanders to surrender.

“This has been our policy from day one when we started the operation that there will be no negotiations with the terrorists,” Mr. Malik said. “They have no other option. Either they get killed or get arrested.”

The detainees were being interrogated and security forces were conducting operations based on information they had given, the army said.

Muslim Khan, 54, was an eloquent defender of militant Islam and frequently called local and foreign media to claim responsibility for attacks and threaten more. The white-bearded spokesman - who lived for several years in the United States, where he worked as house painter - was also a very senior figure in the organization.

The army launched its offensive in the scenic valley in May after the Taliban seized control of the region following a two-year reign of terror in which they burned girls’ schools and beheaded opponents.

The military claims to have killed more than 1,800 insurgents in the offensive, which caused up to 2 million people to flee the valley and surrounding regions.

Most of the refugees have now returned, but the failure to capture the Taliban leadership had been a cause of concern for them.

The Taliban’s top commander in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, is still on the run, though in July the army claimed to have wounded him in an air strike. There were also unconfirmed reports in June that another senior commander, Shah Doran, had been killed.

Last month, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Meshsud, was killed in a CIA missile strike close to the Afghan border. Several weeks later, authorities announced they had arrested that group’s spokesman, Maulvi Umar.

Also Friday, a police officer said a Swede was arrested last month close to the tribal regions on suspicion of links to al Qaeda. The man, Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali, was detained along with 11 other foreigners, the officer said on the condition of anonymity.

A Swedish man with that name was arrested in Pakistan and held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until his release in 2004. Swedish authorities said they had no information of any arrests of Swedish citizens in Pakistan.

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