Leader of a banned outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Malik Ishaq (c) – File Photo by AP

LAHORE: Pakistan on Thursday arrested the head of a banned Sunni extremist group accused of inciting sectarian hatred and masterminding an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, police said.

Malik Ishaq, leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) which is said to have links to al Qaeda, was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore after his return from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said.

“I can confirm his arrest,” she said, adding that Ishaq will be produced in a local court on Friday.

Police had registered a case against him after his “provocative speech to spread sectarian hatred” at a religious gathering in Lahore earlier this month, police official Liaquat Ali said.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regarded as Pakistan's fiercest Sunni extremist group, was banned more than a decade ago by former president Gen Pervez Musharraf.

It is accused of killing hundreds of minority Shia Muslims after its emergence in the early 1990s.

Ishaq was arrested in 1997 and is implicated in dozens of cases, mostly murder. He was released on bail in July last year after serving a jail term of nearly 14 years.

Since his release he had been frequently put under house arrest as his sermons raised sectarian tensions, officials said.

Ishaq was also accused of masterminding, from behind bars, the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, which wounded seven players and an assistant coach, and killed eight Pakistanis.

The attacks saw Pakistan stripped of its right to co-host last year's cricket World Cup.

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