ISLAMABAD, Oct 9: Pakistan security forces have conducted 148 operations to apprehend Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters since Islamabad became a partner in the global war against terrorism, sources in a key security institution said.

Sources said hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects had been captured during these operations conducted in various parts of the country since the US-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Of these, the government handed over 468 suspects to the United States authorities for interrogation, reliable sources told Dawn on Thursday.

The number does not include suspects who have been sent back to their country of origin, including Saudi Arabia and China.

Pakistani forces made the arrests during search-and-raid operations conducted in close coordination with the US security agencies, mostly on tip-off from the American intelligence.

While an exact breakdown of the nationalities of the Al Qaeda suspects was not made available, sources maintained that the suspects hailed from around a dozen countries.

Scores of Chechen and Uzbek nationals suspected of links with the Al Qaeda network were apprehended in the latest military operation launched in South Waziristan last week.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammad remains the highest-ranking Al Qaeda operative arrested by Pakistan authorities so far. He was apprehended in Rawalpindi this March, almost a year after the capture of another key associate of Osama bin Laden — Abu Zubaydah — in Faisalabad.

In an unparalleled military operation to support the US pursuit of Al Qaeda members, Pakistan has deployed more than 70,000 troops along its tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

The troops patrol the rugged tribal terrain to check cross-border infiltration of Taliban and Al Qaeda members who may have taken refuge there or are on the run.

While Pakistan’s contribution as a key coalition partner in the ongoing global campaign against terrorism has won President Gen Pervez Musharraf world acclaim, at home he has faced scathing criticism for extending extraordinary support to the Americans who have done little for Pakistan in return.

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