By Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have shut down several religious schools run by the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group accused of masterminding an attack this month on an air base in India, the provincial law minister said on Friday.
The crackdown in Punjab province, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's power base and the headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammad, follows the arrest this week of several members of the militant group, including its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, an Islamist hardliner and long-time foe of India.
Pakistan has said it is clamping down on Azhar's group, which India has long accused Pakistani authorities of tolerating, while it investigates Indian assertions that the Jan. 2 attack on the Pathankot air base was the work of the Pakistan-based militants.
"Officials of the Counter-Terrorism Department raided the Jamiatul Nur seminary in the Daska area on Thursday and arrested more than a dozen people," Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of the Punjab province where Jaish-e-Mohammad is headquartered, told Reuters.
"The seminary has been sealed off and documents and literature have been confiscated from the premises."
Sanaullah said several other offices and seminaries run by Jaish-e-Mohammad had also been raided and shut down, with many of its staff arrested. He declined to share further details.
In a TV interview on Thursday, Sanaullah confirmed that Azhar had been taken into "protective custody" and said legal action would be taken against him if his involvement in the Pathankot attack was proved "beyond doubt."
The Jan. 2 attack on the base in Pathankot was followed by a raid on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan that has also been linked to Jaish-e-Mohammad, or the Army of Mohammad.
India has demanded that Pakistan take action against the group and on Thursday announced that the two countries would reschedule talks between their foreign secretaries while the investigation into the air base attack was carried out.
Jaish-e-Mohammad militants are blamed for a 2001 attack on India's parliament that nearly led to a war between the nuclear-armed rivals.
(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Tommy Wilkes)