ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Authorities in eastern Pakistan announced Friday counterterrorism forces have captured five suspected al-Qaida operatives planning attacks on security officials.
The operation in Punjab province targeted a facility serving as a media cell and a financing network for militants linked to al-Qaida’s regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the provincial counterterrorism department said in a statement.
It described the five detainees as important members of AQIS, saying one of them was a close aide of the militant group’s current “operational commander” based in neighboring Afghanistan and was coordinating terrorist activities on both sides of the border.
Officials said the raid in Gujranwala city also seized laptops with encrypted data, mobile phones, a printing press, suicide vests, explosives, weapons, including five Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles, ammunition, cash and maps of “sensitive” places in Punjab.
The AQIS cell had recently relocated from Karachi, the country's largest city and commercial center.
Pakistani military forces have conducted major operations against militant strongholds over the past decade in the northwestern remote tribal districts on the Afghan border, clearing most of them and killing thousands of militants.
Officials say retaliatory suicide bombings and other terrorism-related incidents have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including security forces. The security crackdown, however, has significantly reduced militant violence across Pakistan.
Militants who fled the security action in border areas have reportedly moved to other parts of Pakistan, including the country’s richest and most populous province of Punjab.
The United States designated AQIS as a global terrorist organization in 2016. It reportedly operates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, claiming responsibility for attacks in the region.
AQIS’s Indian-born chief, Asim Omar, was killed in September in southern Afghanistan in a joint operation by Afghan and U.S. security forces.
The U.S. military, in a unilateral operation in 2011, located and killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan.