Counterterrorism authorities in Pakistan say they have arrested a group of 13 suspected militants operating a recruiting and training facility for Islamic State.
Officials at the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) told VOA a telephone intercept prompted them to conduct the raid earlier this week against the IS-linked cell in the city of Sialkot, Punjab, the country’s populous province.
Security forces found “an underground training center and seized automatic weapons, communication equipment, bomb-making material, laptops, CDs containing IS propaganda material, maps of Pakistan military’s bases and other facilities,” said the officials requesting anonymity.
All the detainees, they said, were from Punjab and nine of them told investigators they had recently returned from Afghanistan where they had joined with pro-IS fighters after breaking ties with the Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, which first published details of the CTD raid in its Tuesday edition, says the suspects confessed they pledged allegiance to IS chief Abu-Bakr Baghdadi and were planning major attacks against Pakistani security forces.
It went on to say that one of the detainees, identified as Abu Akasha, had facilitated contacts between the suspects and a Pakistani national, identified as Abdu Muavia Salfi, who was in charge of Pakistani militants in Syria. The man helped nine suspected militants reach the conflict-hit Middle Eastern nation through Turkey, the paper said citing official documents.
Members of the militant cell, officials say, were using social media to communicate with each other and possessed Afghan mobile SIM cards. The officials said a phone call from one of the Afghan SIM cards with roaming capabilities enabled them to locate the cell.
The Pakistan government has consistently denied that Islamic State has a presence in the country and has vowed to prevent the terrorist outfit from establishing a foothold.
IS fighters operating in Afghanistan released a 12-minute video last week, showing the group’s violent acts against security forces and pro-government militias, including attacks carried out on the Pakistani side of the border.