Pakistan Arrests Spiritual Head of Taliban

In this photo taken on April 19, 2009, Pakistan's pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Muhammad, leaves after addressing to his supporters in Mingora capital of Pakistan's troubled valley of Swat. A Pakistani minister said on Sunday, July 26, 2009 authorities have arrested Muhammad, who brokered a now-failed peace deal between the government and militants in the Swat Valley. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash) AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

By CBS News' Farhan Bokhari reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan

Pakistan on Sunday announced the arrest of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the spiritual head of Islamic militants in the country's recently embattled northern Swat valley, prompting officials to claim that the noose around the Taliban was tightening fast.

However, western diplomats warned the arrest - though significant - still left behind a number of senior militant figures on the loose.

Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial minister of information in the government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where Swat is located, announced n a news conference, "The government has arrested Maulana Sufi Muhammad. A formal case against him will be registered soon. He killed a lot of people. Again he was planning for this (killings)."

Officials in Peshawar, capital of the NWFP said that two of Muhammad's sons were also arrested during a raid outside Peshawar in the last two days.

Sufi Muhammad's arrest still leaves unresolved the issue of Maulana Fazlullah, the key military commander of the Taliban, who is Muhammad's son-in-law.

Fazlullah was instrumental in organizing the Taliban's military campaign until the movement was defeated by the Pakistani military earlier this month. Pakistani officials claim more than 3,000 Taliban have been killed, while the military and paramilitary lost 166 of their own in the three-month battle for Swat.

The battle for taking back control of Swat has been watched worldwide with intense interest, including the U.S. Pakistan's American-led Western allies saw the campaign as the key litmus test in demonstrating the country's resolve to fight increasingly determined Taliban militants who threatened to impose their rule in parts of the country.

Senior Pakistani security officials said Fazlullah oversaw the campaign by the Taliban in Swat to terrorize the local population using ruthless methods, such as beheadings of locals who were suspected to be spies for the government, as well as beheadings of security personnel.

"Fazlullah became well known as the most ruthless figure in this movement. He did unspeakable things including ordering beheadings," one security official in Peshawar told CBS News on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this month, Pakistani government officials claimed that Fazlullah had been badly injured. However, subsequent reports spoke of Fazlullah retreating to the mountains of Swat valley in the company of a band of diehard supporters. "Fazlullah's arrest or killing will be the high point of this anti-Taliban campaign," a senior western diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News on condition of anonymity.

The security official who spoke to CBS from Peshawar said that Muhammad's arrest must be recognized as a significant milestone in Pakistan's anti-Taliban campaign, predicting it would be "a major reason for demoralization among the Taliban.

"This event will force many to try running even further" from the Pakistani military, the official said.
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