Pakistan has arrested 97 militants in the southern city of Karachi and foiled a planned attack that would have broken US journalist Daniel Pearl's killer out of jail, the army said on Friday.
The alleged al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) members, who include three commanders, are accused of involvement in major attacks on two Pakistani air bases, the Karachi airport, several regional intelligence headquarters, and on police installations between 2009 and 2015, the military said.
LeJ is an Islamist group whose sectarian ideology is closely aligned with Islamic State, as it wants to kill or expel Pakistan's minority Shias and establish a Sunni theocracy.
Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was formed by global al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri in September 2014, and is one of dozens of Islamist militant groups — some aligned against Pakistan and others against its neighbors — that operate in the country.
LeJ's Naeem Bokhari and Sabir Khan, as well as Farooq Bhatti, deputy chief of AQIS, were captured by Pakistani forces in recent raids, military spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa said.
Several of those arrested, including Bokhari, were in the advanced stages of planning a jailbreak attempt on the Hyderabad Central Jail, Bajwa said.
Khalid Omar Sheikh, who kidnapped and killed the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl in 2002, is being held at that jail and was to be released during the raid, he said. The British-Pakistani citizen, who is serving a life sentence, tried to kill himself in 2014.
Six suicide bombers had been enlisted in the attack plan, in addition to 19 involved in facilitating it, Bajwa said. More than 772lbs of explosives had been recovered from a building believed to be a hideout, he said.
The attackers planned to raid the prison compound with two vans filled with explosives, and had a list of about 35 prisoners they planned to kill, Bajwa added, displaying pencil sketches of the prison allegedly made by the militants.
They had a separate list of about 100 prisoners, including Sheikh, whom they were supposed to release, according to Bajwa.
Video images of the militants' hideout showed blue plastic barrels filled with explosives, washing machines that had been used to transport arms and ammunition, long lengths of detonating cord, and dozens of ball bearings.
The footage also showed several rifles that Bajwa said had been stolen from police in earlier targeted attacks. "This plan was 90 percent ready for execution," he added.
The LeJ and AQIS had been working "in collusion" with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, Bajwa added.
"Our conclusion is that all of the terrorist groups are trying to cooperate with each other in order to carry out terrorist attacks," he told a news conference.