Radical cleric Sufi Muhammad, who brokered a controversial peace deal in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley, was on Thursday arrested along with his two sons and five leaders of his banned organisation, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM).
The group's leaders told media that Sufi Muhammad, his sons Rizwanullah and Ziaullah, TNSM deputy chief Maulana Muhammad Alam, spokesman Amir Izzat Khan and central 'shura' or council member Maulana Syed Wahab were among those who were arrested by law enforcement agencies.
However, there was no official confirmation of the arrests. Reports said the arrested persons were taken to an undisclosed location. The reports also suggested that Sufi Muhammad was arrested because of his close links with Taliban fighters in Malakand division.
Most of the persons were arrested from the TNSM's headquarters at Amandarra in Malakand division, where the military is conducting operations against the Taliban.
Sufi Muhammad struck a controversial deal with the North West Frontier Province government in February to restore peace in Swat and other parts of Malakand division. However, the agreement collapsed in May when the Taliban took advantage of the pact to extend their influence from Swat to Buner and Dir districts.
The hardline cleric mediated between Taliban fighters lead by his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah and the NWFP government and finalised a peace deal whereby authorities agreed to set up Islamic courts in exchange for the militants laying down their arms.
However, the Taliban did not observe the terms of the peace agreement and began intimidating and killing people in the nearby districts. Sufi Muhammad also sparked a controversy by announcing at a rally that democracy, the judiciary and parliament were "un-Islamic".
The federal government scrapped the agreement in early May and launched a major military offensive in Swat and nearby areas. Over 1,250 militants and nearly 100 soldiers have so far been died in the fighting. One of Sufi Muhammad's sons was killed in a military operation in Dir last month.
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