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    BIG TERRORIST UNIT BLOCKED IN PAKISTAN

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    ISLAMABAD, March 20, 2004. (RIA Novosti). It is possible that a unit of the supporters of the Uzbek terrorist Juma Namanghani, who was reportedly killed in Afghanistan in 2001, has been encircled in Pakistan, the News daily writes.

    According to the paper, reference is to a group led by Uzbek field commander Takhir Yuldashev, Namanghani's closest associate.

    According to another version, the paper goes on, the group in South Waziristan (populated by Pushtuns of the tribal group of Wazirs, an autonomous region of the North-Western Frontier Province of Pakistan) may be Chechens headed by certain "commander Daniyar." Meanwhile, Pakistani officials have made no statement on the development so far.

    The operation against the foreign militants and their Pakistani accomplices in South Waziristan, bordering on the Afghan Paktika province, started on March 16.

    The day before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, speaking before the elders of the Pushtun tribes in Peshawar, the capital of the province, said 500 to 600 foreign militants and terrorists, including Al Qaeda supporters, may be hiding in an area along the Afghan border on the Pakistani side.

    To avoid casualties among the civilians, the authorities recommended to the local residents to leave the area of hostilities. A few thousand people, most of them women and children, left for Wana, capital of South Waziristan.

    Friday evening the Pakistani troops encircled the area of about 50 square kilometers west of Wana.

    According to Major-General Shaukat Sultan, chief of the country's military information service, up to seven well-organized pockets of resistance are in the area. The day before, Sultan told reporters at a press conference that the numerical strength of the militants (foreigners and Pushtuns) may reach 400 people, "judging by their firepower." The local and foreign press writes, referring to anonymous sources, that Aiman el Zawahiri, 52, the closest associate of Osama bin Laden, may be among the encircled terrorists.

    Pakistani Interior Minister Feisal Saleh Hayat told newsmen in Lahore on Saturday that the operation against the terrorist group in Waziristan would be completed within 48 hours.

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