Brig Ali Khan, who was serving as director for rules and regulations at the army headquarters, was held by the military’s Special Investigation Branch on May 6, four days after Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert US raid in Abbottabad. – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The army confirmed on Tuesday that one of its brigadiers posted at the General Headquarters was under detention on suspicion of links with an extremist group.

Brig Ali Khan, who was serving as director for rules and regulations at the army headquarters, was held by the military’s Special Investigation Branch on May 6, four days after Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert US raid in Abbottabad, for suspected ties with Hizbut Tehrir (HT) — a group that has been calling for a rebellion against ‘pro-America’ leaders.

He is the senior-most military officer yet to be arrested for extremist links. Before his GHQ posting, Brig Khan served as a commander in Azad Kashmir.

The officer, who had received training in the US and was set to retire soon, was earlier denied promotion because of his extremist leanings.

A defence source claimed that a lieutenant-colonel who worked under Brig Khan had also been detained. But another official said the colonel’s arrest was not directly linked to Brig Khan’s case.

The confirmation by ISPR of the brigadier’s detention has come at a time when, in the aftermath of the Osama episode, some elements in the army are being accused of being in collusion with extremists and militants.

For now, Inter-Services Public Relations officials is ruling out his involvement with Taliban or Al Qaeda.

ISPR Director General Maj-Gen Athar Abbas played down links of Brig Khan with extremists as “an exception”.

Speaking to Dawn, he said that although there was zero tolerance in the garrisons for religious and sectarian organisations, the ranks could not remain unaffected by what’s happening in the society -- a reference to rising extremism in the country.

Before his arrest, Brig Khan was under surveillance because of his contacts with extremists, but was held for interrogation once those interactions became too frequent, the sources said.The detention of the brigadier was approved by army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who, a source said, was very disturbed to know about the infiltration of Hizbut Tehrir at such a senior level.

Brig Khan, son of a retired junior commissioned officer, has a strong military background. His brother is serving in an intelligence agency and his son and son-in-law are army officers.

The HT which started operating in Pakistan in the late 1990s had been constantly striving to infiltrate military ranks.

It first enlisted some army officers while they were under training at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, but its links were first exposed in 2003 when some officers were arrested, prompting Gen Pervez Musharraf to proscribe the organisation. The ban was overturned by a court in 2005.

The US government is reported to have alerted the army in 2009 about the penetration of HT into its ranks and presence of the group’s cells.

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