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Wider Message In Pearl Kidnap Case

Police in eastern Pakistan arrested seven members of an outlawed Islamic militant group, seizing three rocket launchers and one grenade launcher, a police official said Tuesday.

The arrests came overnight during a raid on a house in Vehari, a city in Punjab province, said Jamil Ahmed, the city's police superintendent. The suspects are members of the Sunni Muslim group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has been banned by President Pervez Musharraf as part of a crackdown on extremists.

There was no known connection between the arrests in Punjab and the search for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

But officials say Pearl's abduction, along with four rockets discovered Monday aimed at airport facilities used by U.S. forces, are part of an extremist campaign against Musharraf because of his support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

Police in the southern port city of Karachi on Tuesday defused the four rockets, which were connected to homemade timers and aimed at airport facilities currently used by the U.S.-led coalition to support military operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

Karachi Police Chief Kamal Shah said the 107 mm rockets, found about a half-mile (1 km) from the terminal, was meant more as a warning to the government about its support for the U.S.-led campaign rather than inflicting any serious damage.

"It was not possible to hit a target," Shah told The Associated Press. "It was more 'to whom it may concern' because we have come down very hard with extremists."

Two of the rockets were aimed at a terminal at Karachi's international airport used by the coalition for supplying troops in Afghanistan. The other two were aimed at a nearby hotel used as a barracks for troops assigned to the airport.

The rockets were spotted by a passer-by who alerted police, and then defused by a bomb squad.

Aziz Ahmed Khan, the foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters in Islamabad on Monday that investigations about Pearl are going on with the "same intensity and vigor" as in the past. It remains unknown whether Pearl is still alive or where he is.

Pearl was kidnapped on Jan. 23 while on his way to meet Islamic militants for a story on links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes.

Police have four men in custody in the Pearl case, including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born Islamic militant who is believed to be the ringleader.

Saeed admitted his role in the kidnapping during a court hearing Thursday and complained that Pakistan "shouldn't be catering to America's needs."

With Saeed in custody, the focus of the nationwide manhunt is Haider Ali Faruqi, believed to be Saeed's accomplice who actually carried out the kidnapping.

In a report Monday, the English-language newspaper, The News, reported that Saeed told interrogators Pearl's kidnapping was the "first salvo" in an all-out battle between Islamic miltants and the government to stop Musharraf efforts to move Pakistan away from religious fundamentalism.

Last month, Musharraf banned five Islamic extremist groups, all of which are active in the Karachi area. More than 2,000 activists were arrested, according to the Interior Ministry.

Muslim activists were already upset with Musharraf because he abandoned the Taliban after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and threw his support to the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

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