|Some of the arrested men are also suspected of being tied to a suicide bombing that killed 12 last year [Reuters]|
Pakistani police say they have arrested a group of Islamist fighters who were plotting to kill the prime minister in a gun and suicide bomb attack at his house.
Officials said on Thursday that the seven men were also planning to assassinate other government leaders.
Fighters in Pakistan have frequently attacked government officials, security officers and political leaders as part of a campaign to destabilise the US-allied government. Opposition leader and ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack near the capital, Islamabad, in 2007.
Police officials said the conspiracy against Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, was nearly complete. They accused the suspects of belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group.
Their plan included monitoring Gilani’s movements and storming his private residence in the central city of Multan with guns and a suicide bomber, police investigator Waris Bharwana said.
“These terrorists were arrested in a timely fashion, and surely we have averted an attack on the prime minister”, he said.
Authorities did not offer any evidence to back up their allegations. Like other top officials, Gilani does not publicise his movements ahead of time and travels with extensive security.
Multiple attacks planned
Abid Qadri, a regional police chief, said authorities learned about the plot during an initial interrogation of the seven fighters, who were arrested on Wednesday after a shootout near a village in central Pakistan.
The fighters opened fire when police tried to pull their car over for a routine check, Qadri said. Nobody was wounded in the shooting, but two men managed to escape, he said.
A judge has ordered the seven suspects be held and questioned in a prison. Their next court date is October 27.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned Sunni Muslim group, has been linked to the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda. The group has been accused of attacking minority Shia worship places and security forces.
Some of the suspects are believed to have taken part in an attack last year on the offices of Pakistan’s main spy agency in Multan that left 12 people dead, Qadri said.
The men were also conspiring to kill Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, as well as the minister for religious affairs, who last year survived an assassination attempt in Islamabad.
Qadri also said the suspects had plans to attack a dam, a bridge and military installations.