Pakistan 'helped prevent militant attack on Britain before election'

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The Independent Online

Shahzad Tanweer, one of the suspected suicide bombers who struck in London, had visited Pakistan for two months last year.

Mr Sherpao said: "Before the general elections in UK we had received reports that this sort of situation may arise before the elections, and that was aborted because of the information provided by the government of Pakistan. Arrests were made in various countries. Here also."

Later, Mr Sherpao said: "Pakistan gave information to the UK about terrorist activity," and had directly prevented a militant attack. The Home Office refused to comment on the claim, but British police wish to question a 25-year-old British citizen arrested in Pakistan in May. The New York Times said the man was detained near the city of Peshawar and is being held by Pakistani authorities.

That Mr Sherpao felt the need to defend Pakistan's record is evidence that President Pervez Musharraf's government is feeling some discomfort over criticisms of its performance in combating Islamic militancy.

The disclosure that Tanweer travelled to Lahore to attend an Islamic school in December last year, but left early after only two months in the country, has prompted some to question whether he may have been in contact with al-Qa'ida or related groups in Pakistan.

Pakistan's government has long acknowledged that it has a militancy problem. The madrassa religious schools here were the birthplace of the Taliban movement, and sent thousands of volunteers to fight in Afghanistan. All the senior al-Qa'ida suspects who have been captured were found in Pakistan. There is considerable popular support for Osama bin Laden in sections of Pakistani society.

Until recently, the US has unstintingly praised President Musharraf's government as its chief ally in the "war on terror". But last month, the outgoing US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, openly questioned Pakistan's failure to capture Taliban leaders including Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The CIA director Porter Goss has told of "weak links" in the "war on terror", remarks widely interpreted to mean Pakistan.