ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan security officials said on Thursday they had arrested a top militant near the Afghan border but not a Pakistani Taliban leader who colleagues had identified last week as a man who once tried to blow up former president Pervez Musharraf.
Security officials said on July 15 the military had captured Adnan Rashid, who was accused of trying to kill Musharraf in a 2003 bomb attack and who later escaped from jail, in the South Waziristan region near the Afghan border.
The officials hailed the arrest, which followed a shootout, as the first major catch since the army launched an offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants along the Afghan border last month.
The government and army did not officially confirm the arrest at the time.
Later, various other security officials said it was not Rashid who had been captured but an important al Qaeda bomb-maker and trainer.
“A high-value target has indeed been arrested but it is not Adnan Rashid,” one of the officials told Reuters. “There was a mix-up.”
The official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media, declined to identify the trainer or give details about him except to say he had extensive experience in training suicide bombers and making bombs.
Two other officials also said Rashid had not been arrested.
Rashid, is believed to be in his mid-30s and is a former Pakistani air force officer who tried to become a suicide bomber before he was jailed for the attempt to blow up Musharraf.
He escaped from jail in 2012 along with nearly 400 other militants.
Several Pakistani Taliban commanders also said Rashid had not been captured.
“The news that Adnan Rashid was arrested is completely baseless,” a Taliban commander who identified himself by his first name, Sabir, told Reuters by telephone.
“He is free and safe and protected by his 12 suicide-bomber bodyguards who never leave his side. His family is with him.”
Two militant associates of Rashid said false reports of his arrest had been spread in an attempt to get him to react so that security forces could trace his whereabouts.
The Pakistan army and the government declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Hafiz Wazir in Wana, Jibran Ahmed in Peshwar and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Editing by Robert Birsel