LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistani security forces have arrested a retired army major suspected of being the mastermind behind a suicide attack on an air force bus which killed eight people, an intelligence official said on Wednesday.
The suspect, Ahsan-ul-Haq, was arrested in the outskirts of the eastern city of Lahore on December 17, the official said.
“We recovered explosives and jackets used for suicide bombings at his house next to a madrassa (Islamic school),” said the intelligence official, who declined to be identified.
Authorities later arrested five of Haq’s associates in the city of Sargodha, based on information provided by Haq, the official said.
“All of them admitted they were behind the Sargodha attack and were planning to carry out similar attacks, even against politicians,” he said.
A suicide attacker on a motorbike rammed a bus carrying air force personnel on their way to a base in Sargodha, 170 km (100 miles) west of Lahore on November 1, killing eight people.
Haq, who is in his 60s, was said have been close to Afghan Muslim guerrilla commander Younis Khalis, who battled Soviet forces in the 1980s and later had links with the Taliban.
Haq ran a militant training camp in Afghanistan during Taliban rule, the security official said.
The Taliban regime ended when U.S.-led troops ousted the hardline Islamists for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Pakistan has been hit by a wave of suicide bomb attacks in recent months which have killed about 400 people, many of them members of the security forces and security agencies.
Suicide bombers have also attacked politicians including opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on December 27.
The government says an al-Qaeda linked militant based in the lawless South Waziristan region on the Afghan border was behind Bhutto’s killing. A spokesman for the wanted commander, Baitullah Mehsud, said he was not involved.