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

Is Wadh becoming another Waziristan?

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Wadh Balochistan 

Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Considering it a huge threat to the security of upper Sindh, a law enforcement agency has urged upon the Sindh government to convince center and Balochistan for a massive crackdown against a ‘mix of different terrorist groups’ hiding in Wadh and Jhal Magsi areas of Balochistan, The Frontier Post has reliable learnt.

According to credible sources, Additional Inspector General of Police, Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), Sanaullah Abbasi, has written a letter to the provincial government of Sindh and other relevant quarters, in which they have been warned of more terrorist acts in upper Sindh from Balochistan areas of Wadh and Jhal Magsi in absence of decisive action them.

According to sources, the CTD after intelligence gathering has identified that a mix of separatist and religious terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, Sipaha-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and BLA, based in Wadh area of Balochistan is posing a great security threat to the upper districts of Sindh, which itself are very much vulnerable due to mushroom growth of madarasah of the same school of thoughts.

“In small villages, even those with around six houses, a madarasah has been established with ten to fifteen students studying therein,” an official told this scribe, adding that there was no record with local police regarding the number, identity of teachers and nature of curriculum being taught in these madarasah.

Even these religious seminaries, mostly established by persons having returned from Afghanistan’s trip for military training, are not registered with the Wifaq Ul Madaris Al Arabia Pakistan – the relevant Deobandi madarasah board, which keeps a check on the curriculum of registered seminaries, the official added.

The law enforcement agency has not only suggested a massive operation in Wadh and Jhal Magsi but also made it clear that without hitting Shafiq Mengal and Amanullah Zehri, who are gathering different groups at one place, no success can be achieved against the killers and terrorists.

“These groups after mixing uses expertise of each others,” an intelligence officer told, adding that hitting Mengal and Zehri to mandatory for peace.

Sources say that one wanted terrorist in Safoora Bus shooting case is also hiding in Wadh area of the Balochistan province. “Abdul Qadir aka Anwar aka Haji Baloch, a prime suspect in Safoora case, is nephew of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, an accused of World Trade Center bombing on 9/11 and brother of Yousuf Ramzi,” a source told, adding that the Indian agent Kulbhushan Yadav has also admitted to have made contacts with Haji Baloch.

It’s pertinent to mention that at least 8 people, including two cops, were injured after police foiled two separate suicide blasts during Eid prayers in Shikarpur’s Khanpur Tehsil last month. One of the cops, namely Shafiq later succumbed to his wounds during treatment in hospital.

According to reports four suicide attackers infiltrated Khanpur during Eid prayers. One of them, namely Usman, was arrested; who revealed before the interrogators that he was a resident of Swat’s Qabal tehsil and had studied in Karachi’s Abu Huraira seminary.

Usman told that he had come from ‘Wadh’ area of the Balochistan.

Published in The Frontier Post

 

“No go area” for others, PSP conquers ANP fortress 

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“Sohrab Goth and its adjacent areas were strategically very important for the ANP, as on the direction of party command, the members had capacity to block Super Highway within five minutes, disconnecting the city from the rest of the country”,

Naimat Khan

KARACHI: A man with AK-47 roams around main gate of ‘Gulshan View’ apartment whereas Deen Muhammad Wazir tells about the threats workers of Awami National Party are facing.

It’s one of the January 2013 evenings when this scribe was doing a story on Taliban’s presence in Karachi.

Red flags would wave on the main gate and throughout the apartment, which was ‘unofficial’ headquarters in ANP’s stronghold, where Deen Muhammad Wazir would regularly sit alongwith other two of “DIT” – Ismail and Tariq Tareen.

Wazir’s worries regarding open threats to his life proved real by the end of the year when Taliban gunned him down near Janjal Goth on December 2, 2013.

In the coming years Tariq Tareen emerged as sole force of Al Asif Square, Sohrab Goth, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Rabia city and Mekasa apartment.

No Go area for rivals

“With most powerful men from Pakhtun Student Federation (PkSP) reining the area, it had become a ‘no go area’ for rivals of ANP, including MQM, JI, PTI and JUI-F, who couldn’t dare to hold a rally or organize any political activity here,” recalls *Ayub Dawar, a shopkeeper and worker of ANP.

Dawar remembers the day when ANP and MQM workers would fight with each others for controlling most of Abdul Hasan Isfahani road, forcing the then Town Nazim of MQM – Wasay Jalil, who is now MQM’s central leader – to strike a written agreement with Gulshan-e-View boys.

According to the agreement, Dawar informs, the MQM workers couldn’t cross the bridge in front of famous Bara Market, which is situated few yards away from Abbas Town. Jalil, despite several attempts to reach him, was not available for comment.

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Deen Muhammad Wazir, who was killed by Taliban in Dec 2013, in Janjal Goth, Karachi

Change of regime

Though still the posters of ‘Shah Kalam Shaheed’ and ‘Deen Muhammad Wazir Shaheed’ hang at the entrance of ‘Gulshan View’ and red flags have been replaced with Pakistani flags – also flags of Mustafa Kamal’s newly launched party. The name of Pak Sarzameen Party has also been inscribed at the main entrance.

Tariq Tareen
Tariq Tareen ( TT) who recently joined Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party

At right side of the apartments local chief of ANP Umar Badshah Mehsud has setup a stall to campaign for the May 12 to remember the day when dozens of ANP workers on their way to Jinnah International Airport to greet the then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry were bathed in blood by rival party.

Inside stall few of the ANP workers are sitting. “As we are going to mourn the deaths of our fateful fellow workers, Shahi Syed is holding Valima Ceremony of his son in Islamabad,” a disgruntled ANP worker complained.

‘Dry cleaned’

Tariq Tareen alongwith several workers of ANP and PSF announced to join the Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party in its debut public gathering held at Bagh-e-Jinnah, Karachi on April 24, 2016.

A local ANP worker and former comrade of Tariq Tareen (TT) told this scribe that like many MQM’s tented workers, TT found it good opportunity to get ‘dry cleaned’ at Mustafa Kamal’s Defence laundry.

“Tareen who “manages” some 370 flats in different apartments is still ruling alongwith Deen Muhammad Wazir’s nephew Sultan Wazir the areas of Rabia City, Jauhar, Micasa Luxury Apartment and Al-Asif Square,” he said. Wazir hasn’t left ANP yet but it’s Tareen who has say in everything, a worker said.

“When Tareen was picked up by Rangers in 2013 people took to streets and burnt vehicles, carts and tyres near Rabia City in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, showing his influence in the area,” he recalls, adding Tareen would also help PSP to gain ground in Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Sohrab Goth.

“Sohrab Goth and its adjacent areas were strategically very important for the ANP, as on the direction of party command, the members had capacity to block Super Highway within five minutes, disconnecting the city from the rest of the country”, another ANP leader said on the condition not to be named.

The ANP spokesperson, however, claimed Tareen had never been part of Awami National Party. “When Tareen was president of Pakhtun Student Federation (PSF), the party leadership dissolved PSF just because of Tareen wrongdoings,” Abdul Malik, the ANP Sindh’s spokesman said.

“We still have impact in Sohrab Goth and other parts from where hundreds of workers have come to attend the party’s May 12 public gathering in Banaras today,” he said.

“It’s the criminal record of Tareen, due to which he was refused the basic membership of ANP,” Malik added.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Published in The Frontier Post

Dicing with death

Faced with threats, intimidation and a lack of resources, journalists in Afghanistan await international attention

Blood stains can be seen on tree at Site of attack on Tolo TV staffers- Photo by the Writer
Dried blood stains can be seen on tree at Site of attack on Tolo TV staffers- Photo by Writer

By: Naimat Khan

Imagine a person is just issued the Afghan visa, and a Facebook status from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) – appearing on his timeline – informs him that at least seven employees of his host organisation in Kabul have been killed in a suicide blast.

“The CPJ condemns attack on Tolo TV employees in Afghanistan,” the headline read.

“A suicide bombing in Kabul today killed seven employees of the Afghan station, Tolo TV. The attack on staff returning from work at the privately-owned station injured 27 others, including 26 staff [members],” the status further informed.

I shared the above status – as I usually do from journalists organisations – without realising my spouse and son were also on Facebook.

It happened, what I was afraid of. My wife and eight-year-old son requested me to cancel the trip to Afghanistan, one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.

But I tried to convince them.

“Thousands of journalists have been reporting from Afghanistan, including its most-troubled region. Is Karachi less dangerous for a journalist?” I asked my wife.

Nevertheless, they came to see off with a worrying mind, and prayed for my safety.

Accompanied by a driver and a gunman, the hosts picked me from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. My fears did not subside as the manager of the hotel I was staying in pointed towards a ‘safe’ room in case of an ‘emergency’. I was not sure what exactly he meant by an emergency.

“I have landed in the most dangerous place for journalists,” said a voice from within.

On the sidelines of my scheduled engagements – which included stories on the rise of Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan provinces and perception of Pakistan in Afghanistan, among others – I met several journalists to find out what  makes them join a profession, which invites countless threats in the war-torn country.

“Journalists in Afghanistan work under extremely difficult circumstances and routinely face violence, threats, and intimidation that most of the time prevent them from carrying out their work normally,” Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, managing director of ‘Nai’, an organisation working on training and development of journalists in Kabul told me.

Nai works for capacity building of journalists and is involved in advocacy on their behalf.

Another journalist had a similar view.

“In the wake of growing insecurity, safety of journalists has become a serious issue in Afghanistan,” said Muhammad Faheem Dashty, chief executive Afghanistan National Journalist Union (ANJU), an umbrella organisation of fifteen journalist organisations in the country.

Ziaur Rehman, a correspondent of the prime Tolo News in eastern Nagarhar province of Afghanistan, who had just returned after burial of his colleague, Zubair Khaksar (killed by ‘unidenified’ men Jalalabad on the night I was staying there), said journalists were facing threats from the terrorists.

“Your reports may anger someone in this part of the world where there is minimal state control.”

Several mafias are active and our reporting bothers them all, he adds.

Reports suggest as many as 58 journalists – including Khaksar – have been killed in Afghanistan since 2011; of them 65% were directly or indirectly killed by the Taliban. Almost 33% of them were murdered by the ‘unidentified’ whereas 2% allegedly killed by government officials.

According to data compiled by Nai, about 629 incidents of violence against journalists have occurred since the Afghan war of 2001, with the highest number of attacks being reported in 2014: 86. While June was the most violent month with 70 attacks, Kabul leads with the most number of violent incidents across Afghanistan.

Hirat, a western province, comes second with 43 incidents whereas Nagarhar occupies third position among other provinces with the highest ratio of violence against journalists.

Kandahar and Tahar have both witnessed 27 violent incidents each, whereas in Helmand, there were 21 attacks.

Data suggests that of the 629 incidents, 203 were direct threats; 58 were murders whereas in 215 incidents, journalists were beaten up. As many as 73 journalists were arrested, and 26 others kidnapped in this period.

The top five organistions whose correspondents have faced violence are Aryana TV (32), Tolo TV (22), Pajhwok (15), Civic Activist (14) and Al Jazeera (12).

According to Khalvatgar, the safety course offered by his organization was not among the top three attractions despite its conspicuousness. “It’s also because, it has become routine for journalists in the war-hit Afghanistan where they are demonstrating unnecessary braveness”.

Dashty agrees but says journalists in Afghanistan should learn more on how to deal with dangerous situations.

For this, his journalist union is working on several fronts. Despites financial constraints, Dashty said the ANJU is pressurising the government to provide security to journalists.

The ANJU has prepared primary guidelines for journalists – advice on how to cover suicide attacks and deal with personal as well as threat to their media outlets.

“We do not have enough funds to print it for thousands of journalists,” he said, adding that still the organisation tries reaching the maximum.

“We have held several meetings with President Ashraf Ghani, security council of the government, as well as law enforcement agencies, asking them to take serious measures for the security of already ‘endangered’ Afghan journalists.”

Though short of funds, Dashty’s organisation plans to hold safety workshops.

“We always avoid the dangers, and hence, are training our members on how to deal with them,” he says. “We are working on laws and regulations, and lobbying for changes in the curriculum for police. They should know how to cooperate with journalists performing their duties.”

Attacks on journalists can restrain progress of media in Afghanistan but threats, intimidation and murders of journalists cannot stop media from its due expansion,” adds Khalwatnagar. “The number of media outlets in Afghanistan, which was almost 700 in 2013, has dropped to about 550 in 2016 due to financial crisis, which needs attention.”

Today thousands of journalists, including those in far-flung areas, need training. Though journalist unions have started with their limited resources, international funding will help them expedite the efforts for securing journalists in this war zone.

Published in The Frontier Post