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Pakistan to Block Mobile Phone Networks During Muslim Festival

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan will block mobile phone networks in several cities early Saturday over security fears during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

The decision "based on intelligence reports" has been taken to prevent attacks by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants on Muslim congregations in several cities including parts of the capital Islamabad, he said Friday.

"We have received 13 intelligence alerts" about security threats, Malik told reporters.

"Mobile phone service will remain suspended for four hours from 6:00 am (0100 GMT) when people gather for Eid prayers" in mosques and at open places, he said.

"It will not be a countrywide shut down, it will be partial, only in cities and pockets considered sensitive," he said.

Terrorists were plotting to target three cities in Punjab province, two in southern Sindh and some in the insurgency hit Baluchistan and northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan, he said, but did not reveal their names for security reasons.

The minister said he regretted the "inconvenience" the suspension of mobile service will cause, particularly to the country's youth.

Pakistan has experienced horrific acts of violence in recent years, with mosques attacked and civilians killed indiscriminately by suicide bombers.

Some 35,000 people, including more than 3,000 soldiers, have been killed as a result of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington and the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.

The move to suspend mobile phone networks comes as gunmen shot dead two members of an anti-Taliban peace committee in the northwestern Swat valley, where militants tried to murder schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai this month.

Malala, 15, was recovering in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where she was brought from Pakistan on October 15. Authorities fear mobile phones could be used to coordinate attacks or trigger a remote-controlled bomb.

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