LAHORE, Pakistan: Pakistani police on Friday detained the head of a banned Sunni Muslim extremist group that claimed responsibility for deadly sectarian bomb attacks in the southern city of Quetta.
Malik Ishaq, the leader Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), was held after two recent bombings in the city targeting the Shiite Hazara minority killed more than 180 people, sparking nationwide protests.
Shiites, who make up around 20 percent of the mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, are facing record numbers of attacks, raising serious questions about security as nuclear-armed Pakistan prepares to hold elections by mid-May.
Ishaq was detained at his home in the central city of Rahim Yar Khan, where he was living openly, before being taken to a local jail, police said.
He was being held under the "Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) law on the orders of the Punjab provincial government," a senior police official in Rahim Yar Khan, Tanveer Ahmad, told AFP.
A court released Ishaq on bail in July 2011, even though he has been implicated in dozens of murders. He was detained briefly in 2012 for
inciting sectarian hatred.
He has been accused of masterminding the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, which wounded seven players and an assistant coach and killed eight Pakistanis.
His detention came a day after the Pakistani army denied any links to LJ, which is the most extreme Sunni Muslim terror group and is linked to both Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
Chief military spokesman, Major General Asim Bajwa, was cited in newspaper Dawn as saying "there is no way the army can afford" any ties to militants.
The latest bomb attack in Quetta was on Saturday last week, in which 89 people were killed. On January 10, 92 people were killed in an attack at a Hazara snooker hall.
Protesters poured onto the streets following Saturday's attack and shut down parts of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, demanding better protection for Shiites and lashing out at the government for failing to catch the perpetrators.
Shiites protested by refusing to bury their dead following both attacks.
They called off nationwide protests over the latest attack on Tuesday and agreed to bury their dead after the government promised to arrest those responsible.
The minority called off a similar protest in January when Islamabad sacked the provincial government and imposed governor's rule after the snooker hall bombing.
Officials said earlier this week that security forces had killed four men and detained more than 170 alleged suspects, including the purported mastermind of Saturday's bombing.
Pakistani security forces frequently detain people en masse after major bombings but few if any are ever charged.
Human Rights Watch said more than 400 Shiites were killed in 2012, the deadliest on record for Shiites.
LJ emerged as a spin-off from mujahideen groups which were funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency and backed by the Pakistani intelligence services during the 1980s war against Soviet troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.