French pair seized by Pakistan police on Bali trail

15th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Two Frenchmen arrested in Pakistan for suspected ties to Al-Qaeda-linked militants were seized by police hunting an alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, officials told AFP Friday.

Intelligence officials said the men, known by their first names Zoaib and Sharaf, were between 19 and 22 and came from the Paris region.

One is of Moroccan origin and the other's family comes from Pakistan. Both were arrested in the eastern city of Lahore about 10 weeks ago, intelligence officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The two are suspected of being part of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group responsible for the 2002 nightclub attacks in Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, according to Pakistani security officials who requested anonymity.

They were arrested by police hunting Indonesian militant Umar Patek, a suspected mastermind of the Bali attacks and a member of JI which is blamed for a string of deadly bombings across Indonesia.

Patek, one of Southeast Asia's most wanted Islamic extremists with a $1million bounty on his head, was himself arrested recently in Pakistan, Indonesian and Pakistani officials announced late last month.

"We made the arrest while on the trail of Umar Patek. They were linked to his group," one intelligence official told AFP.

The two Frenchmen were arrested on the basis of information received from a Pakistani militant being held, he said.

But the two men picked up in Lahore were not likely to be linked to the Bali bombings, one official at the French embassy in Islamabad said, "because the two people arrested were barely 12-years-old at the time".

The French embassy has confirmed that it had been informed by the Pakistani authorities of the arrests and said Paris was waiting for a response to its request for consular access to the men.

Foreign Islamic militants have headed to Pakistan for training or to fight for Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Five German jihadists were killed in October last year by a US drone strike on a militant hideout in a Pakistani tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been hit by a wave of terror attacks in recent years with more than 4,200 people killed in suicide and bomb attacks since government forces launched an offensive against militants in a mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants launch almost daily attacks across northwest Pakistan and the tribal belt, which Washington has branded the most dangerous place on Earth.

© 2011 AFP

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