Pakistan says it arrested Taliban spokesman

A prominent Taliban spokesman who often claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces has been tracked down and arrested after using a Pakistani mobile telephone, Pakistan said.

Mullah Hakim Latifi was caught Tuesday in southwestern Baluchistan province, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said. Baluchistan borders Afghanistan, and members of the Taliban are believed to have sought refuge in the area after Afghanistan's ruling militia was ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

"It is a big success. We were looking for him for a long time," Ahmed said.

Ahmed said Pakistan had not made any decision to hand over the Taliban spokesman to Kabul.

"It is premature to talk about it. First our security agencies will question him," he said.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao confirmed the arrest. Another interior ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media, said Latifi had been using a Pakistani mobile phone and two satellite telephones and would be moved to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, for questioning.

"He was tracked down on a tip in a Pakistani town," the official said. He said some associates of Latifi were also captured, but did not identify them.

However, a second security official _ who also spoke on condition of anonymity _ said Latifi was captured from a home in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province.

"He was alone there. He did not offer any resistance," he said.

The official said Latifi so far had told authorities that he had no information about the whereabouts of the most-wanted Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, although he said he was hiding somewhere in Afghanistan.

Sherpao described Latifi as the Taliban's chief spokesman. But information from Hakimi in the past has sometimes proven exaggerated or untrue. Afghan and U.S. military officials say he is believed to speak for factions of the rebel group, though his exact ties to the Taliban leadership cannot be verified.

Latifi was not a prominent figure in the Taliban while the Islamic militia was in power, only becoming a media contact after the ouster of the movement.

"The Afghan Defense Ministry appreciates this action by the Pakistani government," ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zaher said.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have sometimes been strained because of Afghan suspicions that rebels are using Pakistan as a staging area for cross-border attacks. Pakistan denies it.

Rebels are active in the volatile south and east of Afghanistan, and have stepped up attacks this year. More than 1,300 people, including hundreds of militants, have died in the past seven months.

Pakistan was once a supporter of the Taliban, but withdrew its support and became a chief ally of the U.S.-led coalition forces that ousted the militia, AP reported.

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