The Al Qaeda sleeper cells of Karachi

By: Naimat Khan

Affluent, educated terrorist recruits pretend to live normal lives, waiting for orders

 tft-16-p-1-b
Five years ago, on December 28, 2010, a bomb went off outside a stall run by a Shia student group at Karachi University, injuring three. A top cop in the counter-terrorism department, Raja Umar Khattab, told reporters he had discovered a terrorist cell run by modern university students who had no background of religious training. But a student network was not very high on the priority list of law-enforcement agencies dealing with much more lethal outfits.On March 19 this year, an anti-terrorism court sentenced two men to 14 years in prison for planning the 2010 attack – Muhammad Umar alias Chota, a student of Food Sciences at Karachi University, and Hafeezullah alias Bilal, a student of International Relations. Another accused, Shahid Khan aka Qari Shahid, was killed in a gunfight with the anti-violent crime cell of the police on December 15, 2011. His widow Sabiha told investigators her husband was involved in attacks on the PNS Mehran naval base in May 2011 and the headquarters of what was then called the Crime Investigation Department in November 2010, and a motorcycle bombing targeting Shia mourners in Malir in January 2011.

Shahid Khan played cricket with former Pakistani captain Younis Khan –

Investigators believe Shahid Khan – who had played cricket with former Pakistani captain Younis Khan in the Steel Town grounds before being enrolled at the KU’s department of Political Science in 2000 – had formed a number of Al Qaeda sleeper cells, consisting of “graduates with professional degrees” in urban centers where it could not grow a large presence.

“The idea was conceived by Dr Arshad Waheed, a Karachi-based doctor specializing in neurosurgery,” said a police official currently interrogating the suspects believed to be involved in the Safoora massacre. “After the US invasion of Afghanistan, he moved to Kandahar to help heal the wounded fighters, but was later accepted into the ranks of Al Qaeda, and ultimately tasked to organize groups of young professionals.”

After Dr Arshad Waheed was killed in a drone strike in South Waziristan on March 16, 2008, Shahid Khan took over, and began recruiting young students with religious leanings for initial training at Al Qaeda-run camps in Waziristan. Many of them were killed in drone strikes.

“He was the most appropriate person to infiltrate into the Islami Jamiat Talaba due to his past association with the organization and his prominence among students in general for playing exceptional cricket during the inter-departmental cricket tournaments,” the police officer added. “But the number of recruits could not exceed two dozen, because the IJT leadership retaliated. They did not want to make their organization a springboard for Al Qaeda recruitment.”

Among the students who were inspired was Kalim Farooq (real name withheld on his family’s request), who left his education at KU unfinished to pursue a career in TV production. He produced children’s programs, until “one day he packed his bags and left with his wife and infant son for Waziristan, leaving his family in utter shock,” his brother recalls. “We did not know what happened to him all of a sudden. He just gathered the whole family and announced his final decision.”

Abdul Rehman Shujaat, a graduate of the NED University of Engineering and Technology, followed him. Some of Kalim’s fellows from Karachi University were next to leave. Among them were Zuhair Imtiaz Qidwai – a Geology graduate who had worked at offshore oil rigs abroad, Misbah Usmani – a History drop-out who was running a men’s fashion start-up, Muhammad Shabbir – another History graduate and journalist associated with a local news agency, and Imran Nazeer – a mechanical engineer with a diploma from Pakistan Swedish Institute of Technology.

The identities of these young men became known only after they were killed in various drone strikes in the tribal areas. An “unidentified messenger” came to Kalim Farooq’s house in an affluent Karachi neighborhood and told them Farooq had been killed by a drone-fired missile. They say he was a “normal, fun loving boy”.

“One day he packed his bags and left for Waziristan”

So was Muhammad Azhar Ishrat – one of the suspects in the gun attack on a bus full of Islamili passengers in Safoora area of Karachi – according to his colleagues in a top cellphone company in Pakistan. Azhar is in the custody of police’s counter-terrorism department.

“Azhar never showed any signs of extremist behaviour. He used to meet everyone in a humble manner and was very supportive towards his colleagues,” said one of his friends.

Those who know Saad Aziz – who confessed to killing liberal activist Sabeen Mehmud for campaigning against Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz – such as workers at the high-end restaurant owned by his father, or his fellows at the prestigious Institute of Business Administration, do not understand how the polite person they knew became so ruthless.

“That is the strategy of sleeper cells – they never let anyone read what is going on inside their minds,” says another police official involved in the investigations of the Safoora massacre. “They kept visiting South Waziristan, lying to their family, friends and bosses about their absence, to undertake short but extensive training in propaganda, militancy and subversive attacks.”

When they were back in Karachi, they kept low profile. “They continued to carry out propaganda work for Al Qaeda, using their ability to write well in both English and Urdu, and also conducted brainwashing sessions for potential recruits in suburban areas like Gulshan-e-Maymar and Gulshan-e-Hadeed,” the investigator said, “until they would receive directives to execute an attack.”

They were not even interested in taking credit for their attacks. On the contrary, they left leaflets that seemed to belong to rival terrorist network, the Islamic State, after the gun attack on American professor Debra Lobo in April. The handbills said she was “killed” to avenge the death of five “Mujahideen” in the city’s Keamari coastal town, earlier in April. Police had identified them as operatives of Al Qaeda. But why would the IS want to avenge the death of operatives of Al Qaeda?

“This must be an attempt to dodge law enforcers,” Raja Umar Khattab had told me in April. “The attack has similarities with four previous acts of terrorism, which later proved to be the handiwork of Al Qaeda.” He was referring to two attacks on Rangers and police, a motorcycle bombing outside a Bohra community mosque, and a grenade attack on a shop of a Bohra trader earlier this year.

Similar IS handbills were found from the site of the Safoora bus massacre.

The Bin Laden documents recently released by the US reveal that Al Qaeda chief was annoyed that his fighters were careless and left trails behind. After the Safoora massacre, it was their extra carefulness that made them conspicuous. The suspects were all using a newer, safer android application Talkray.

It was their extra carefulness that made them conspicuous –

The police managed to locate and arrest the man who printed the handbills, who led them to Saad Aziz, Hafiz Nasir and Azhar Ishrat, and eventually to Tahir Minhas from Punjab, a terrorist mastermind who had been orchestrating such attacks since 1998. He is said to have met Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri. Tahir’s brother was arrested soon after in a raid on a house in Hyderabad. Karachi police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo said on Sunday that four more suspects had been arrested, but declined to reveal their identity saying it could hurt the investigations.

Educated men from affluent families being involved in terrorist activities is not a new phenomenon, according to Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst and director at the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad. He says there is a long list of high-profile terrorists hailing from Pakistan’s educated middle-class, which includes Daniel Pearl’s murderer Omar Saeed Sheikh, Al Qaeda IT expert Naeem Noor Khan, Times Square bombing planner Faisal Shahzad, Danish Embassy bomber Hamad Adil, and hijacker of a navy frigate at Karachi dockyard Owais Jakhrani. Jakhrani was the son of an additional IG of Sindh police, Ali Sher Jakhrani.

Initially, organizations like Al Qaeda and Hizbut Tahrir worked only on the already-Islamized workers of religious parties, turning them against their own organizations especially for participating in the electoral process. “After the early recruitment in 2007, religious parties began to disown those working with Al Qaeda, and support for the group declined sharply,” says Noman Ahmed, a journalist closely watching activities of religious groups. The Jamaat-e-Islami even developed a counter-narrative to what Al Qaeda was preaching, he says. As a result, Al Qaeda resorted to recruiting middle and upper class youth from the city’s top colleges and universities.

But that does not undermine the role of some madrassas as the motivating force behind such terrorist attacks. “Tahir Minhas, the mastermind of the recent massacre of Ismailis, went to a madrassa,” says Munawar Burki – a security analyst belonging to the Kaniguram town of South Waziristan. “Hafiz Nasir, on the other hand, had a master’s degree in Islamic Studies from the University of Karachi.”

“While these educated men carried out propaganda for Al Qaeda, the radical content they used was already available in Urdu,” says Noman Ahmed, a journalist who interviewed students who were exposed to the propaganda, being deemed ‘potential recruits’.

In his media briefing, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said the Al Qaeda cell they busted consisted of 30 militants. Police officials say the total number of operatives linked with Al Qaeda may be more.

The arrested suspects have told interrogators that the recruits in South Waziristan were told to return to their hometowns after the Operation Zarb-e-Azb began, and carry on with their “normal lives” until further orders. Some went abroad. Others found jobs in local as well as large multinational companies. Yet others resumed their education in the country’s prestigious colleges and universities.

The report was originally published in The Friday Times Lahore

Advertisements

Jihadi network of students involved in attack on Ismailis’: investigators

karachi

By Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Though a splinter group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, named Jundullah, has taken responsibility of the Safora carnage, investigators have founded evidences which indicate that the brazen attack against Ismaili community was a handiwork of the same group which had gunned down two deputy superintendents of police earlier this month.

A senior investigator told this scribe on the condition of anonymity that some of weapons used in attack on Ismaili’s bus matched with armed being used in killing of senior police officers.

According to police sources the Light Machine Gun (LMG) used in the attacked had been snatched from police some days ago. “However, the 9MM pistol used in the attack matches the weapons being used in the incidents in which we believe are carried by local and young network of global terrorist outfits”,  a senior police officer told Daily News.

The sources also called the IS pamphlet recovered from spot as part of the tactics by the group which wants to detract law enforcers.

According to a report a Jihadi network of youths – which is active in the troubled metropolis for quite some time now – had been found involved in the killing of two deputy superintendents of police (DSP) recently shot down in Karachi.

DSP Abdul Fateh Sangri was shot dead along with his guard and driver in an ambush in Gulshan-e-Hadeed area of the city on Friday, May 1, whereas DSP Zulfiqar Zaidi, who was the security in-charge of Sindh High Court and the Sindh Secretariat, was killed along with a friend Shahzad in an act of targeted killing on Saturday May, 8 in Shah Faisal colony of the city.

Proscribed outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed the responsibility of the murder of Sangri but investigators are not ready to believe as the evidences tell an altogether different story and disconfirm the claim, the report published here stated.

In Zaidi case, the law enforces had ruled out the possibility of any sectarian or other motives due to personal enmity of Zaidi with some people.  “However the evidences collected from crime scenes in both acts hint at the involvement of a group of young and active Jihadi youths” a senior official told this scribe on the condition of anonymity.

Weapons used in both incidents match with each others, confirming that a single group has gunned down both police officials, sources added.

The law enforcers had found empty shells from the murder spot of DSP Abdul Fateh Sangri. Sources inform that the bullets had been fired with five weapons, with a breakup of five being fired from one, four from the second, five from the third, eight from the fourth and four from the fifth.

The bullets shells were sent to forensic which reveal that one of the weapons used in the assassination of DSP Fateh Sangri had also been used in the killing of the one Asad Ali Chawla s/o Aftab Chawla who was killed in the remits of Baloch Colony police station in April 2014. According to reports when Chawla, 24, was sitting at his Cement Depot the gunmen came and targeted him.

Though initially police had claimed that the killing of Chawla was a result of nonpayment of extortion money, however later the murdered turned out to be the handiwork of a global terrorist group.

Originally Published in The Frontier Post

Jihadi Network of active youths behind killing of police officers

DSP Zulfiqar Zaidi
DSP Zulfiqar Zaidi

Naimat Khan

KARACHI: A Jihadi network of youths – which is active in the troubled metropolis for quite some time now – has been found involved in the killing of two deputy superintendents of police (DSP) recently shot down in Karachi, highly credible sources told The Frontier Post.

DSP Abdul Fateh Sangri was shot dead along with his guard and driver in an ambush in Gulshan-e-Hadeed area of the city on Friday, May 1, whereas DSP Zulfiqar Zaidi, who was the security in-charge of Sindh High Court and the Sindh Secretariat, was killed along with a friend Shahzad in an act of targeted killing on Saturday May, 8 in Shah Faisal colony of the city.

Proscribed outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed the responsibility of the murder of Sangri but investigators are not ready to believe as the evidences tell an altogether different story and disconfirm the claim.

In Zaidi case, the law enforces had ruled out the possibility of any sectarian or other motives due to personal enmity of Zaidi with some people.  “However the evidences collected from crime scenes in both acts hint at the involvement of a group of young and active Jihadi youths” a senior official told this scribe on the condition of anonymity.

Weapons used in both incidents match with each others, confirming that a single group has gunned down both police officials, sources added.

The law enforcers had found empty shells from the murder spot of DSP Abdul Fateh Sangri. Sources inform that the bullets had been fired with five weapons, with a breakup of five being fired from one, four from the second, five from the third, eight from the fourth and four from the fifth.

The bullets shells were sent to forensic which reveal that one of the weapons used in the assassination of DSP Fateh Sangri had also been used in the killing of the one Asad Ali Chawla s/o Aftab Chawla who was killed in the remits of Baloch Colony police station in April 2014. According to reports when Chawla, 24, was sitting at his Cement Depot the gunmen came and targeted him.

Though initially police had claimed that the killing of Chawla was a result of nonpayment of extortion money, however later the murdered turned out to be the handiwork of a global terrorist group. According to MWM, a Shia organization, Chawla was a notable of the Shia community.

Moreover police sources told that six assailants on three bikes had fired at DSP Sangri whereas four on two bikes had attacked Zaidi. The terrorists had ordered Sandwiches and then cold drinks from the hotel but when the waiter could bring, they had fled the scene after killing Zaidi, sitting next to them, police sources said.

According to police one of the youth was wearing beard.

Originally Published in The Frontier Post

The IS puzzle in Karachi

Why would Islamic State want revenge for killing of Al Qaeda men?

Lobo

By: Naimat Khan

After a gun attack on American professor Debra Lobo in Karachi, the assailants left behind a leaflet that said she was “killed” to avenge the death of five “Mujahideen” in the city’s Keamari coastal town. Ms Lobo survived the attack.

“O crusaders, we are the lions of Islamic State [Daulah-e-Islamiya] and the eagles of our Caliph. Today we have killed this Kansas woman Lobo. We will continue to ambush you and attack you fiercely and kill you wherever you are until we besiege you to America and then God willing we will burn America down,” the printed note said.

This is not the first such case. The Middle East based IS has left its mark in Pakistan and Afghanistan several times in the recent past. On April 18, 33 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a terrorist attack in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, that President Ashraf Ghani said had been carried out by Islamic State militants.

But it is the first time that IS has claimed revenge for the killing of Al Qaeda men. The men were killed in a gunfight with Rangers on April 8. “One of the five militants killed in the recent Keamari encounter was the Karachi chief of the Al Qaeda,” said Major Sabtain, spokesman for Sindh Rangers.

Earlier reports said the militants killed in the Tapu area of the Keamari neighborhood belonged to Ilyas Kashmiri group. Kashmiri was a former SSG commando who became a militant in Kashmir, and later joined Al Qaeda.

The leaflet found at the site of the attack on Ms Lobo has raised a lot of eyebrows, but senior investigator Raja Umar Khattab, who handles terrorism related cases and heads the anti-terror unit of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) previously known as Crime Investigation Department (CID).

“Al Qaeda doesn’t claim small acts and this must be an attempt to dodge law enforcers,” he said. “The attack has similarities with four previous acts of terrorism, which later proved to be the handiwork of Al Qaeda.” He was referring to two attacks on Rangers and police, a motorcycle bombing outside a Bohra community mosque, and a grenade attack on a shop of a Bohra trader earlier this year.

The modus operandi and the weapons used in these attacks were similar, says Raja Umar Khattab.

Although experts don’t rule out strategic alliances between various militant groups despite their differences, police are not ready to believe the IS would seek revenge for the killing of a Al Qaeda operative.

Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent is a more serious threat than the distant Islamic State

Hasan Abdullah – an Islamabad based security analyst – said he was aware of “back-channel diplomacy” going on between the two groups, but was not convinced that the attack on the American citizen in Karachi was the work of IS. “First of all, there are contradictions in police accounts. Secondly there has been no claim of responsibility by the IS. If anything, the IS would be keen to claim its attacks, especially in the Urban centres of Pakistan,” says.

Security analysts and law enforcers believe that Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent is a more serious threat to the security of Pakistan than the distant Islamic State.

According to Umar Khattab, 90 percent of the Taliban militants in Karachi have been eliminated. But he admits the Al Qaeda threat must not be downplayed. “Today, the most active terrorist group in Karachi is Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent,” he said.

On April 13, days after the Rangers raid in Keamari, police found an explosives factory and killed five Al Qaeda militants during a raid in Orangi town. They said the dead men included the mastermind of the attack on a Rangers van at Qalandria Chowrangi last month.

According to Muhammad Arif Hanif, deputy inspector general of the Counter-terrorism Department, police seized a laptop which had video recording of the suicide attacker, identified as Arif alias Wahaj – a resident of Bilal Colony in Korangi, and a student of a prominent religious seminary in Karachi.

Evidence confirms the group had carried out several attacks, including bomb attacks near Qalandria Chowk on January 10, near DC Office (West) on February 3, and near Shahra-e-Noor Jehan on August 31, he said.

Al Qaeda may also be linked to attacks on police vans at Ibrahim Haideri and Bilawal Colony in 2013, and the assassinations of political workers Khursheed Pathan, Siraj Behari, Alam Mochar and Syed Zahir Shah, and a policeman identified as Razzaq.

But they did not claim responsibility for any of these attacks.

Analysts believe leaving leaflets with names of other groups may be an AQIS tactic to mislead investigators.

Terrorists wounding Lobo identified as members of banned outfit

Lobo

KARACHI: The terrorists, who had hurt American professor Dr Debra Lobo in Karachi in the middle of this month, have been identified as members of a banned outfit, which has carried out several terrorist acts in the recent past, police sources told The Frontier Post.

The US citizen, Debra Lobo , is an Associate Professor in Community Medicine department of the city’s Jinnah Medical and Dental College (JMDC), the college’s website informs. Police told that the suspects were identified with the help of CCTV footage and other evidences. According to reports the groups was identified when police interrogated suspects of police murder case in Korangi.

Though the city police chief, Additional IG Ghulam Qadir Thebo, confirmed that there was progress in the case he refused to divulge the name of group, saying naming the terrorists would make them alert. The group has carried out several attacks on police and Rangers, police sources told this scribe, confirming that leaving leaflet with the name of Islamic State was a deliberate act to dodge the law enforcers.

Also Read: The IS puzzle in Karachi

“O crusaders, we are the lions of Islamic State [Daulah-e-Islamiya] and the eagles of our Caliph. Today we have killed this Kansas woman Lobo. We will continue to ambush you and attack you fiercely and kill you wherever you are until we besiege you to America and then God willing we will burn America down,” the printed note found from the spot stated.

However, police sources said the group behind attack on Dr Lobo is not Daulah-e-Islamiya or Islamic State which had claimed it.

Originally Published here (The Frontier Post)