Pakistan's counter-terrorism police and the country's intelligence agency raided hideouts of an outlawed Shia militant group in the eastern Punjab province and arrested seven suspects who allegedly wanted to attack leaders of rival Sunni Muslims' groups, a spokesman said Thursday.
In a statement, the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department said the suspects from the outlawed Sipah-e-Mohammad group were arrested in three separate raids over the previous 24 hours from cities of Sargodha, Khusab and Sahiwal.
It said officers seized bomb-making material and guns that were to be used in sectarian attacks by the arrested men. The suspects were being directed by militant leader Mehmood Iqbal, who was hiding in a neighboring country, officials said. Authorities did not name the country but officials have previously blamed Iran for backing Shia militants.
Pakistani security forces often make such arrests, but the latest ones came just after Sunni militants killed 11 Shia coal miners they had abducted from southwestern Baluchistan.
Angered over Sunday's killing of coal miners, hundreds of minority Shia from the Hazara community have since been rallying in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.
The slain coal miners were also from the Hazara community, which has repeatedly been targeted by Sunni militants, including an ISIS affiliate that claimed responsibility for the abduction and killing of the miners about 48 kilometers (30 miles) east of Quetta.
7 terrorists of a proscribed militant Org, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan being operated from a neighbouring country, have been arrested in a joint CTD+ISI operation today in central Punjab. “Main aim of the terrorists was to commit terrorism in order to spread violent sectarianism”. pic.twitter.com/A5FrFGfGfO— Ihsan Tipu Mehsud (@IhsanTipu) January 7, 2021
Under Islamic tradition, burials take place as quickly as possible after death. But the Shia were refusing to bury the dead. They also said they would not hold funerals until authorities arrest the killers.
Shia have been demanding a crackdown against Sunni outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba group which has killed scores of Shia Muslims throughout Pakistan in the past several years.