New York Times

May 18. 2011

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — More than 100 militants stormed a Pakistani security post close to this provincial capital on Tuesday night, one of the heaviest attacks in recent months, a senior police official said.

Heavily armed insurgents, bearing rockets and light artillery, rushed the post at Sangu Mera on the outskirts of the city and near the Khyber region of Pakistan’s lawless tribal area, said the city’s police chief, Liaqat Khan.

After a nearly five-hour battle and deployment of reinforcements to assist the police and paramilitary soldiers stationed at the post, the militants were pushed back “dragging bodies of their men,” Mr. Khan said. He said that two policemen and 15 militants were killed.

The checkpoint was recently installed to protect Peshawar from an increase in attacks by militants against security forces, Mr. Khan said.

The fight between the security forces and the militants came less than 24 hours after the Pakistani Army announced the arrest of an operative of Al Qaeda in the southern port city of Karachi.

The operative was identified in a statement by the Pakistani Army as Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub, also known as Abu Sohaib al-Makki, and was described as “working directly under Al Qaeda leaders along the Pak-Afghan border.”

A Pakistani intelligence official said in Karachi on Tuesday night that the operative was arrested in the Gulshen-i-Iqbal area of the city on May 4 or May 5, just days after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad.

The army said the operative was of Yemeni descent.

“The arrest of al-Makki is a major development in unraveling the Al Qaeda network in the region,” the Pakistani Army statement said.

The announcement followed the pledge by Pakistan and Senator John Kerry on Monday that Pakistan and the United States would mount joint operations against important militants in Pakistani territory.

“It was also agreed that the two countries will work together in any future actions against high-value targets in Pakistan,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether the operation to arrest the Qaeda militant was carried out by the Pakistanis or in cooperation with the United States.

Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Pakistan this week to repair relations that had soured between the United States and Pakistan after the Bin Laden raid early on May 2.

A joint communiqué between the senator and the Pakistani government noted that Pakistan was a victim of terrorism, particularly from Al Qaeda, which had “declared war against Pakistan.”

The militants who attacked near Peshawar were associated with a group called Lashkar-i-Islam, which is based in the Bara area of the Khyber region that abuts Afghanistan, said Mr. Khan, the police chief.

The group, once led by a well-known leader, Mangal Bag, has morphed into what is essentially a criminal gang that conducts kidnappings for ransom and targeted killings, Mr. Khan said.

The attack on the Sangu Mera post on Tuesday night was a larger operation by militants than their spate of night raids in recent months on posts intended to protect Peshawar.

The militant assault came after a double suicide bombing last week in which more than 80 new recruits to the Frontier Constabulary were killed in Charsadda, a town in Khyber-Pakhtunkwha Province.

Since the Bin Laden raid raised questions about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, Pakistani officials have pointed out that the country has suffered major losses in the effort to halt militants, with a death toll of more than 30,000 civilians and more than 3,000 soldiers.

Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, and Jane Perlez from Islamabad, Pakistan. Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.