Making it deadly

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Naimat Khan

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KARACHI: Terrorists in Pakistan do not rely on industrial grade bombs. Instead, to target both law enforcers and ordinary civilians, they have relied on their own specialized cadres to make different kinds of bombs. On April 12, 2016, Karachi Police’s Counter Terror Department unearthed a facility used to make bombs in the Gadap town. In the raid one bomb maker named Muhammad Mujtaba aka Rehan was eliminated. One of his accomplices, named Abdul Saboor aka Hamad was killed, whereas anther, named Muhammad Murtaza, was arrested. Police also recovered 80 kg of explosive material, circuits, ball bearings, bottle bombs, tennis ball bombs, bomb manufacturing material, laptop, memory cards, and USBs.

Raja Umar Khattab, senior counter terrorism official who led the raid, told this scribe that the arrested Muhammad Murtaza aka Abu Huraira claims that the dead Rehan was the last expert bomb maker alive in the city. Rehan was the protege of Hashim aka Babu, a master bomb marker with 14 years of experience, especially car bombs. Babu was killed in a gunfight with the police in April 2015.

After Babu – who had put together the bomb manufacturing setup in Gadap town and supplied explosive devices to one Abdus Salam Sindhi of Liaquatabad – was killed, the Counter Terror Department’s assessment was that it had set back AQIS’s bomb making capability significantly. “After that shoot out, I thought that this was it. As I had extensively worked on hunting the bomb makers and dented all three groups – the brainwashers, the hit-men and bomb makers – of Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), I believed that no locally made lethal weapon will be used by terrorists, at least for next couple of years,” Khattab told The Frontier Post.

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But six months later, on October 17, 2016, the police were surprised when terrorists hurled hand grenades at an Imambargah in Liaquatabad killing one child and leaving several women hurt. Media reported it as cracker blast. “For a while I believed that my assessment after April had been wrong,” Khattab told and added “but when we arrested Ishaq Booby and Asim Capri, accused of Amjad Sabri’s murder, they disclosed that they had hit the Shia Majlis with grenade having ball bearing wrapped to it”.

“The terrorists had wrapped ball bearings with it for ensuring it results maximum fatalities.” It was clear to Khattab then that Taliban and AQIS were innovating around their constraints.

In March 2013, the BBC Urdu first reported terrorists – normally knowing for using Russian made hand grenades and smoke grenades – were using the tennis ball bomb. The tennis ball bomb was an invention of the Taliban, according to the Police, working like a small bomb or cracker but had a bigger sound impact. Taliban increased its lethality by adding ball bearings of 2mm and nails. Such tennis ball bombs were made at the factory in Gadap Town.

The loss of the bomb making facility at Gadap is likely to hurt the Taliban as it comes on the back of sustained counter terror efforts by the law enforcement agencies.

“We have always known the TTP uses local bomb making factories, but with the success of Zarb-e-Azb, we know that their capabilities have been decimated,” according to Khalid Muhammad, Director General – CommandEleve, adding, “We also know that they have ‘imported’ bomb makers from AQAP and IS Khorasan to give them a more logistic advantage in quick hit attacks with IEDs, much like the tennis ball or shoe bomb”.

Muhammad is of the view that the security agencies must shut down capabilities of terrorists comprehensively, which they are currently doing.

“Second, we must get ahead of their technology by understanding what technology these groups have used in other battle spaces like Iraq and Syria,” he concludes.

They are for maximum terrorism, whether inventing new or adding more lethality to the factory-made, the terrorists will continue their search for deadly weapons to use, said another analyst.

Published in The Frontier Post 

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Counter-terror experts give no credence to LEJ-A claim of Quetta police academy assault

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Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Counter-terrorism experts have rejected Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) Al-Almi’s claim of carrying out the Quetta police training academy attack, saying the banned outfit’s assertion meant for a mere re-branding.

The claim by Al-Almi, an offshoot of the LeJ – a Sunni sectarian outfit with its origins in Punjab – has not been established so far, says Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism official in Karachi, revealing that the claim by Afghanistan-based IS-Khurasan could be substantiated through evidences the outfit has provided with its claim on Tuesday. “Both organisations are, however, being operated from Afghanistan currently.”

Over 60 police cadets were killed when three heavily-armed militants wearing suicide vests stormed the police training centre on the outskirt of the capital city of Balochistan on October 24.

Interestingly, both the proscribed groups, Islamic State and Al-Almi, claimed responsibility with the latter saying it was assisting the Khurasan branch of the Middle Eastern terrorist organisation. IG Frontier Corps Major-General Sher Afgun said calls intercepted between the attackers and their handlers suggested they were from the LeJ.

“We came to know from the communication intercepts that there were three militants who were getting instructions from Afghanistan,” Afgun told reporters, adding, “The Al-Alami faction of LeJ was behind the attack.”

Read More: Elimination of Malik Ishaq no fatal blow to sectarian killings

The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency published the claim of responsibility, saying three IS fighters “used machine guns and grenades, and then blew up their explosive vests in the crowd”. A teenage attacker killed by security forces can be seen in IS media release, supporting the IS-Khurran’s claim.

“The calls may definitely be from Afghanistan as both the IS and LeJ Al-Almi are being operated from other side of the border,” the police official said. “Though LeJ and Al-Almi claimed the responsibility, the one IS-Khurasan with evidently true claim hasn’t mentioned any assistance from the sectarian outfit,” Khattab told The Frontier Post.

This is not the first terror act with multiple claims. In August, Quetta hospital was attacked that left 70 people, mostly lawyers, dead was claimed by the IS, and also by the banned Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaatur Ahrar. However, according to Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, India’s premier spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was involved in the attack.

Though, Al-Alami earlier claimed responsibility for the targeted assassinations of four women of the Hazara Shia community in the provincial capital and the attack on a Shia Imambargah in Karachi, experts believe that the trend of attacking Shia community and law enforcement agencies by IS has emerged, without any role of the LeJ.

“Currently, several terrorist outfits, including IS, AQIS and TTP are found involved in sectarian-driven bloodletting,” the official said.

According to the police official, LeJ has the capability of target killing but it doesn’t seem to be capable of carrying out major terror attacks. “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was formed in 2004 by Abid Mehsud, a mastermind of Hasan Turabi murder, but the group has never excelled.”

Currently, Yousuf Mansoor is running the organisation from Afghanistan whereas its Sindh chapter’s head, Safdar alias Abu Sufian, who is also the outfit’s spokesperson, is admitting most of the terror acts to remain in the news for attracting youths with militant and sectarian tendencies.

“The organisation’s claims haven’t been verified,” Khattab told this scribe, adding that the group has been unable to establish its own camp inside Pakistan or Afghanistan and has been sending its members to camps of other terrorist outfits.

According to security experts, the Al-Alami’s mother organisation, LeJ, has almost become dysfunctional after two of its most notorious leaders, i.e. Malik Ishaq, the chief of the terror outfit, and Usman Saifullah Kurd, the head of its Balochistan chapter, were killed in encounters with law enforcers.

Moreover, Hafiz Naeem Bukhari, the head of LeJ’s Karachi chapter; Asif Chotu, the commander from southern Punjab, and Qari Ramzan Mengal, the Quetta-chapter head, are in jail.

Read More: Writing on the wall

Reports suggested that the killings and arrests of its top leadership have hampered LeJ’s operational capabilities and dented its organisational infrastructure. “LeJ has never claimed responsibility,” the official added.

Meanwhile, Balochistan government on Wednesday formed an investigation team to probe into the Quetta carnage. “The support of Punjab’s forensic agency will also be sought,” Deputy IG Quetta Abdul Razzaq Cheema said. The team will visit the incident cite, speak to survivors and present its report soon, added Cheema.

Published in The Frontier Post

‘Death squads backed by Muslim neighbor operate in Karachi’

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KARACHI: As the Rangers’ led operation against political killers and terrorist outfits like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda has been successful, the law enforcers are facing hardship in dealing with at least one lawlessness factor due to religious resistance and sectarian leanings within police force, it has reliably been learnt.

A report by a sensitive agency, a copy of which is available with The Frontier Post, has cited “constant power struggle between various political, religious and sectarian segments of the society” as a core of Karachi problem. “The power struggle is essentially geared towards having control over the financial resources”.

“Land grabbing, china-cutting and control over water hydrants and lucrative contracts in industrial areas remains the core of such confrontations,” the report reads. According to intelligence agencies, the problem is compounded by corruption and collusion of Sindh police coupled with lacunas in criminal justice system which are effectively exploited by such mafias.

Read more:  Writing on the wall

As much has been done on this front, including effective operation against political killers, operation against TTP, Al Qaeda and IS-Inspired Jihadi network in the city’s suburbs, a problem is unresolved due to some factors, yet to be overcome, a source told this scribe. “The city is also the target of international intelligence agencies being a port city”.

According to report Karachi has been the recruitment base of Al-Qaeda traditionally. “The presence of vast number of Deobandi and Ahle-Hadith Madressahs provide a rich recruiting base for terrorist organizations”.

According to security sources, bringing Madressah registration laws is part of the efforts to overcome this issue. “But there is another issue, which is far from being addressed,” a law enforcement officer told on the condition of anonymity.

“The presence of large Shia majority in areas such as Abbas town, Jaffer-e-Tayyar Society Malir, Ancholi Rizvia, New Golimar, Shah Faisal provides an excellent operational area for Iranian intelligence to make inroads”, informs the report. Multiple Shia death squads operate in Karachi and due to significant presence of Shia officers in police and law enforcement agencies the operations against such death squads could hardly ever be successful, the report reads.

“Furthermore, being financially well off and being a well connected community any arrests of target killers in past met with immensely powerful street agitations,” according to the report, informing that the Shia death squads are cleverly operating under the garb of Shia NGOs such as Jaffria disaster cell (JDC), PYAM, OYAM and Baqiatullah.

According to the report, Majlis-e-Wihdat-ul Muslimeen (MWM), the new political face of Shia community in Pakistan – which has been contesting elections in Karachi – has also formed its own death squad.

“Target killing has been a rampant phenomenon in Karachi. MQM-A has been the prominent political party using target killing as its favored tool. Atleast 12 death squad teams operated in Karachi further assisted by sector target killer teams”.

According to report the intelligence based operations have seriously reduced MQMA’s death squads’ capabilities however there are other actors using the same tool with resilience. “MQMA started to face serious fissures within it due to its Shia members breaking away from MOMA towards MWM.

“Latest reports indicate that MWM has also created its own death squads”.

According to a report by  Samaa News channel , Police have revealed that a man recently arrested on the suspicion of target killing had been working as a translator for the neighboring country’s consul general.

The man, identified as Mehdi Moosvi, was arrested by police from Shadman Town area of Karachi.  “Officials claim the suspected hit-man, allegedly involved in sectarian killings and terrorism, has made shocking disclosures during the investigation”, news channel reported and added, “He [the accused] disclosed that he has worked as translator of a neighboring country’s consul general, and has also accompanied his country’s diplomat during meetings with former Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and other high officials”.

The accused has also worked in the cyber crime cell of FIA after he helped the agency’s deputy director Kamran Ata in recovering fake degrees. Prior his association Mehdi was officer in the Axact.  On May 21, 2016, this newspaper reported anti-IS graffiti in Shia neighborhoods of the city amid reports of several youths having joined the Assad’s battle against the Middle Eastern terrorist group, IS, in Syria.

“Thousands of Shia youths have left for Iraq and Syria from different parts of the country, including Karachi whereas anti-Islamic State (IS) sentiments are touching its highest edge in Shia neighborhoods of the seaside city,” a senior official told then on the condition of anonymity.  On other hands the experts told this scribe that the growing trend of anti-IS wall-walking in Shia vicinities indicated that the community had been exposed to recruitments by the groups who are sending youths to Syria and Iraq for anti-Daish fighting.

On May 2, 2016 Iran passed a law to grant citizenship to families of Pakistani ‘martyrs’ fighting in Syria and Iraq. It’s also pertinent to mention that an earlier report published in this newspaper informed that thousands of Pakistanis have left for Syria to fight alongwith Assad’s forces. In its letter on 13th August, 2014 National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) wrote to provincial governments that over 2000 Pakistani Shia students were studying in Madaris of Najaf, Iraq where they are “brainwashed and motivated against Sunni on sectarian line and Pakistani government for alleged killing of Shia in Pakistan.”

Tariq Habib, an Islamabad based journalist, told The Frontier Post in May 2016 that known faces of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who are being placed in fourth schedule, had been advised by leadership to leave for Syria via Balochistan.

“The Shia youth recruited under the banner of ‘Al-Zainabun’ and Sunni youth fighting alongwith Diash are sent to Syria and Iraq for three and seven months, respectively. If proper strategy wasn’t adopted to counter them the sectarian violence will break all past records of Pakistan,” Habib told.

For the revival of the caliphate

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Naimat Khan

KARACHI: As militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda are losing their powerbase in Pakistan after the continuing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Islamic State is trying to make inroads in the country, allegedly in complicity with the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT).

“We want to replace the current ‘prohibited’ system of western democracy with Islamic Caliphate,” Pakistan head of HuT Naveed Butt, told me during an interview in Karachi, weeks before his ‘alleged disappearance’ in mid of 2012.

Butt, who was also the outfit’s spokesperson in Pakistan said the current system, which has popular mass support will be replaced through a ““change of minds, especially of those who have a say in country affairs.”

We don’t subscribe to the views of the Taliban, he said, adding the organisation was working on the “powerful” of the country.

Founded in 1953 as a Sunni Muslim organisation in Jerusalem by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, an Islamic scholar and a judge, over the years, HuT has spread to more than 50 countries, particularly the United Kingdom, Arab and Central Asian states, with an estimated one million members.

In Pakistan, the HuT was proscribed by former military dictator General (R) Parvez Musharraf in 2004. It is still among the list of banned outfits.

“HuT identifies itself as a non-violent movement. However, its strategy of influencing and infiltrating into the security institutions for overthrow of western styles of governance implies a violent method,” says Raza Rumi, a US based Pakistani journalist who left the country after attack on him in Lahore.

“Compared to the nihilism of IS and Al Qaeda, HuT seems benign but at the end of the day it builds a wider support for acceptance of a global Caliphate ideal.”

Raja Umar Khattab, in-charge counter terrorism department, concurs with Rumi.

Butt, originally stationed in Lahore and Islamabad, was on a visit to Karachi for a meeting with the potential members from different walks of life, including media.

Weeks later on May 11, 2012, HuT activists held a protest demonstration in Lahore, alleging Butt had been abducted by “intelligence agencies” from the Punjab capital on his way home.

An electrical engineer from University of Illinois at Chicago, Butt, like many high profile members of the HuT, had left the western lifestyle for Pakistan. Though banned, the organisation enjoys the liberty to run a #freenaveedbutt campaign for the release of its leader.

The HuT had a soft corner for Pakistan’s security establishment but turned critical when the military media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), confirmed on August 2, 2012 Brigadier Ali Khan, Major Inayat Aziz, Major Iftikhar, Major Sohail Akbar and Major Jawad Baseer were facing charges for having links with the banned outfit.

Many HuT activists off the record have confessed that Brigadier Khan, among others were products of the ‘change of minds’ narrative.

Though HuT’s activities were never open, it somehow interacted with important circles, which came to an end after the conviction of Brigadier Khan and the disappearance of Butt. Law enforcers apprehended a number of outfit’s activists in the following days.

The proscribed organisation claims several of its activists have been arrested despite the claim that their movement for implementation of Shariah was “never violent”. Recently, police authorities disclosed the arrest of two of its senior members.

On Tuesday October 6, 2015, police told media they had arrested an engineering and business graduate, Ovais Raheel from the city’s Boat Basin area. The suspect, police claimed, was targeting educated youngsters in the Defence and Clifton areas to use them “for illegal activities” with a view to implementing “Caliphate” in the country.

“The suspect has been arrested under Section 11EEEE (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” Mazhar Mashwani of the Counter-Terrorism Department told media during a press conference. The suspect’s wife claims her husband is innocent.

Later on Friday, November 27, 2015, CTD claimed to have arrested the HuT’s Karachi chief, Hisam Qamar. The suspect, police said, was working in K-Electric as a deputy general manager.

Fifteen days before the police disclosed his arrest, Hisam family held a news conference at Karachi Press Club, claiming he was ‘abducted’ by LEAs a few days ago.

HuT’s connection with Islamic State

Besides arrests for distributing pamphlets in favour of the militant group, wall chalking related to IS has appeared in Quetta and Lahore. Lahore police claims it was done by Hizb activists.

Army General Raheel Sharif, who reportedly sought British government’s help against the outlawed HuT during UK visit in January this year, has also time and again said “not even a shadow of Daesh” will be tolerated in Pakistan. Similar stance has been conveyed by the country’s Foreign Office.

“HuT came to the UK in 1986 with help of Syrian Omar Bakri Muhammad and it now dominates the British radical scene,” writes Sahar Aman, a UK-based journalist.

Khattab and many experts believe though they might have not put up arms against the state, what they preach helps recruit militants.

“Though no proper connection between the two has been established, workers of HuT remain vulnerable to IS, which has the same goal but through the use of force,” says Muhammad Amir Rana, security analyst, who is also a director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad.

Analysts believe those influenced by Tahrir are potential IS members.

“Hizb-ut-Tahrir, al Qaeda and the Islamic State have the same core ideology. They all reject secularism and secular systems such as democracy and believe in a political, economic and social system as per Shariah,” says Hasan Abdulah, a senior journalist covering militancy in Pakistan. “Both only differ in their methodology.”

Abdullah adds, “HuT claims to be non-violent and justifies its stance by claiming Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replaced the pre-Islamic system with an Islamic one through a non-violent struggle.”

One could argue HuT is indirectly aiding al Qaeda and IS by indoctrinating Muslims to reject democracy, secularism and pluralism, etc, to embrace the concept of a global caliphate, concludes Hasan.

Published in The Frontier Post 

Pakistan kicks off massive operation against 1200 militants, terrorists across Sindh

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Naimat Khan

KARACHI: The Sindh Government has directed provincial Police to kick off massive crackdown against militants, terrorists belonging to different proscribed organizations, which, the sources said, will be carried out with assistance and close coordination of the paramilitary forces. The list of 1200 militants, terrorists and members of the proscribed organizations received from federal interior ministry by the provincial government has been forwarded to Deputy Inspector General (DIGs) of police with instructions to rigorously start the chase after them, an officer in the Sindh Home Department told.

Sources informed those in the list include members of Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sepah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

Sources said though the operation would be carried out in each town and city of the province, Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Jamshor, Thatha, Badin, Tando Allahyar, and Tando Muhammad Khan would be given special focus where major chunk of the 18 million affectees of the Zarb-i-Azb operation has been settled.

Sources said in total contradiction with the claims by provincial government to have screened the entry of each and every Internally Displaced Person (IDP), the authorities in Sindh now believe that many of the militants have also infiltrated under the shelter of the affectees.

In this connection a letter was dispatched to the office of Inspector General Police Sindh and all deputy inspectors general of Police in Sindh on Monday, 29th Dec, 2014 with clear directions to start a massive search operation in order to unearth terrorists’ hideouts.

Earlier, the ministry of interior in the capital in a letter dated 21st December 2014 had instructed provincial government that district police’s SSP must be tasked to remain very vigilant in the areas and localities which could possibly be potential hideouts.

According to letter, a copy of which is also available with this daily, the Senior Superintendents of the Sindh Police have also been tasked to “identify the terrorists on account of the ongoing war against terror which has led to a lot of disruption among the terrorists groups”.

“It is important not to let them find a place of refugee from where they can plan a resumption of terrorist activities” the police officers have been instructed.

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They are also made bound to report the progress regarding search operations and success, if any, on daily basis to Sindh home department for onward transmission to the office of National Coordinator, National Counter terrorism authority, minister of interior, sources said.

The news was originally published here