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Leader bans militants

| Sunday, Nov. 16, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday he won't let extremist groups play with Pakistan's destiny as his government banned three Islamic militant groups and four men were sentenced to death for murdering a minority Shiite Muslim.

Pakistan can only play the key role in the global war on terrorism that countries such as the United States have requested "if we address terrorism, religious extremism and sectarianism (at home)," Musharraf said. "We are all Muslims, but no one has the right to claim that he is a better Muslim than others."

The president said Pakistan has drastically reduced the number of foreigners who slip into the country illegally to study at madrases, or religious schools, many of which have been accused of advocating militancy in the name of Islam.

"Those who are indulging in extremist acts are ... harming both Pakistan and Islam," Musharraf told a meeting attended by Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Cabinet ministers.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the hard-line Taliban militia, Pakistan has been working to fight terrorism in the region.

But mostly Muslim Pakistan suffers from terrorist attacks and violence targeting religious minorities such as Shiites and Christians. Pro-Taliban and pro-Osama bin Laden groups operate in Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan. And nations such as the United States have urged Musharraf's government to crack down on militant groups that cross the border to fight for independence in Indian-held Kashmir.

On Saturday, four members of a banned Islamic militant group were convicted and sentenced to death in the southern city of Karachi for the murder of a minority Shiite trader in a terrorist attack, a prosecutor said.

The four belonged to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, which has been accused of dozens of terrorist attacks by majority Sunnis against Shiites and Christians.

The men already had received sentences of death or life imprisonment in seven previous cases, prosecutor Mazhar Qayyum said. Musharraf outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in August 2001.

Also Saturday, the government banned three Islamic militant groups under the Anti-Terrorist Act, saying they'd renamed themselves after being outlawed under their original titles.

The groups are now called the Shiite Tehreek-i-Islami Pakistan, the Sunni Millat-e-Islami and the Khudam-ul Islam. The first two have been accused of sectarian violence, and Khudam-ul-Islam of sending separatists rebels into India's Kashmir.

A fourth militant group, Jamat-ul Dawat, was placed on a watch list under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, which is aimed at reducing religious violence.

After the government action, police in Karachi and Hyderabad closed the offices of the three newly banned groups, officials said.

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