ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani Taliban militants plan to kidnap senior Pakistani officials to pressure authorities to release relatives of Osama bin Laden detained after the al Qaeda leader was killed, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Friday.
Bin Laden’s wives and several of his children are being held by authorities in the South Asian nation, where the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, and al Qaeda have been building an alliance for years.
“Intelligence agencies have issued an alert that the TTP have plans to kidnap top people in Pakistan,” Malik told Reuters.
It was not possible to immediately verify the report.
“They are planning to use (hostages) as bargaining chips to demand the release of members of Osama’s family in exchange.”
Bin Laden’s relatives were detained after U.S. special forces killed him in a raid in the garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry had said bin Laden’s wives, one from Yemen and two from Saudi Arabia, would be repatriated, but a government-appointed commission investigating bin Laden’s killing prevented repatriation.
The Pakistani Taliban, who pose the biggest security threat to the U.S.-backed Islamabad government, have staged several suicide bombings in Pakistan to avenge bin Laden’s death.
They have demonstrated ability to carry out high-profile attacks, including a raid on army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 in which the Taliban took more than 40 people hostage.
Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Pakistan joined the U.S. “war on terror” after 9/11 and has lost about 5,000 soldiers and security forces fighting militant groups based along the unruly border with Afghanistan.
An estimated 30,000 civilians were killed in the violence.
Bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, told Pakistani investigators in May that she and her family lived for five years in a compound in Abbottabad.
Suspicions grew in Washington that some members of Pakistan’s powerful security establishment knew bin Laden was living there.
Pakistan, which denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, was enraged because it was not informed of the U.S. Navy SEALs raid that killed bin Laden.
Malik said security had been beefed up after the Taliban kidnap threat.
The TTP is holding more than 20 young tribesmen hostage in an area straddling the border with Afghanistan and have demanded the release of scores of prisoners and an end to tribal elders’ support of offensives against them.
The teenage tribesmen from Pakistan’s northwestern Bajaur tribal region were abducted by the militants on August 31 while on an outing in Afghanistan’s border province of Kunar.
Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Michael Georgy