Andrew Buncombe: Well-trained, motivated and on the rise. But who are these militants?

5 03 2009

Source: The independent

The images are nothing short of terrifying. A dozen well-trained, well-armed men fanning out and taking up their positions with consummate ease and expertise. Nothing could be more different than the grainy CCTV footage of a single truck lurching up to the gate of a five-star hotel and its driver arguing with the security guards and, five minutes later, a massive bomb exploding.

Last night, as Pakistani police continued what increasingly seemed a hapless hunt for the perpetrators of the Lahore attack, a consensus was gathering that the ambush represented the emergence of a new and distressing terror threat for South Asia.

It is not that militant attacks are anything new for Pakistan. Since the summer of 2007, the country has been beset by about 120 suicide bomb attacks on police and civilian targets. But almost without exception, they have been largely crude, hit-or-miss strikes that depended on one or two attackers delivering a truck or car bomb. Tuesday’s highly-mobile, commando-style militants armed with grenade launchers and automatic weapons and who slipped away when they realised their objective was not obtainable, appeared anything but crude.

“These were definitely different tactics. They were like commandos and they were very clearly not on a suicide mission,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based analyst and author. “They had a particular intention – to either kidnap or attack the Sri Lankan team – but when they were not able to do that they fled and have not been seen.”

Many have likened the Lahore attacks to those in Mumbai last November when a similar number of well-trained, well-armed militants held off Indian counter-terrorism commandos for more than 60 hours. Those attacks were blamed by India and others on the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). It is too early to say whether the LeT was responsible for the Lahore attack and experts point out that, in its 20-year existence, the LeT has never attacked a target inside Pakistan. But clearly something very serious is happening in Pakistan; someone, somewhere is training groups of well-equipped, highly motivated militants who have the wherewithal and skills to challenge even the best of the region’s counter-terrorism forces. It raises all manner of questions; where are they being trained, who is supplying them with arms, who is supplying them with intelligence, why are the intelligence agencies such as Pakistan’s notorious ISI not aware of this group? More sinisterly, many will ask, are elements in the ISI linked to these militants.

Diving into the alphabet soup of potential suspects for Tuesday’s attack may be a futile task. Bahukutumbi Raman, an Indian security analyst and former intelligence official, said he believed a number of Pakistan-based militant groups had the potential to carry out that style of attack. They include the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), an offshoot of the HUM, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), an anti-Shia organisation, and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI).

Writing on his website, he adds: “Al-Qa’ida and the [Pakistan Taliban] have carried out a number of suicide bombings through individual suicide bombers and vehicle-borne bombers in many towns including Lahore but they have not so far carried out a frontal urban ambush … Since its formation in 1989, [the LeT] has never carried out any act of terrorism in Pakistani territory, against Pakistani or foreign nationals. All its acts of terrorism have been either in Indian or Afghan territory.”

Mr Raman says the HUM once had operational ties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the Sri Lankan rebel group.

The incident has also forced a rethink of what constitutes a target. Until this point, sportsmen and woman were believed to be largely insulated from the region’s extremism. But if cricketers are now considered fair game, it means, in effect, that no one is safe.

Asked how Pakistan can defend itself against this new threat, Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general, said: “You have to have a lot of good intelligence, the support of your people and a better police. You also have to have good governance, rather than growing opposition to everything that is happening.”





Police left us like sitting ducks, says referee

5 03 2009

Chris Broad, the ex-England batsman turned match referee who escaped injury in Tuesday’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers, castigated Pakistan yesterday for not providing the promised “presidential-style security” and accused the security services of fleeing the scene and leaving the visitors as “sitting ducks”.

As Pakistani police began investigating whether the gunmen were planning to take the whole squad hostage, Broad arrived at Manchester airport with scathing remarks about the way Pakistani police had handled the attack.

“After the incident there was not a sign of a policeman anywhere,” said Broad. “They had clearly gone, left the scene and left us to be sitting ducks. I am extremely angry that we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished and we were left open to anything that the terrorists wanted.

“Questions need to be asked of Pakistan security. At every junction there are police with handguns controlling traffic, so how did the terrorists come to the roundabout and these guys do nothing about it?”

Sri Lanka’s team captain, Mahela Jayawardene, appeared to side with Broad, saying that the gunmen fought a one-sided battle. “They were not under pressure … nobody was firing at them,” he said.

But Pakistani officials were aghast at the suggestion. Ijaz Butt, the Pakistan cricket board chief, said: “How can Chris Broad say this when six policemen were killed?”

The assailants were carrying enough arms, ammunition, food and medical supplies to hold out for a prolonged period, perhaps several days. Pakistani police believe they could have been planning to board the bus and then put on the suicide vests that some were carrying, which would have enabled them to hold the entire team captive.

It may just have been the quick wits of the driver, who managed to speed the bus away, that averted a dramatic hostage situation. “From the inventory we have recovered, it seems they did not just mean to ambush the cavalcade,” said Mushtaq Sukhera, the head of the investigations department of the Lahore police force, in an interview with the Guardian. “It all suggests that they had planned something else, otherwise why were they carrying all these things?”

Sukhera would not speculate on the hostage plan, but other police officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said taking the bus seemed the most likely.

A huge quantity of firearms, grenades and other equipment was recovered from rucksacks dumped by the attackers, and from an abandoned car. There were also rocket-propelled grenade launchers, meaning that the terrorists were at least as heavily armed as the men who attacked Mumbai for three days in November.

The assailants carried significant quantities of food, bandages and antiseptic liquid. Each of the gunmen wore a bulky rucksack. Sukhera said each rucksack contained half a kilo of almonds, half a kilo of dried fruit, biscuits and water bottles, enough to keep them going for days.

Police yesterday made sweeping arrests, detaining some 50 people, though reports suggested none were the gunmen involved and they had only vague connections to the incident.

Sketches of four of the attackers were issued by the police. CCTV footage emerged showing how calmly the gunmen left the scene. The images showed the terrorists strolling through a nearby market after the attack, machine guns still in hand. The authorities for the first time admitted security lapses yesterday. The top official in the Lahore administration, Khusro Pervaiz, said the “security gaps are very vivid, very clear”. He said the outer cordon of the Sri Lankan team’s police escort was missing or did not respond. He also said the vehicles being used by the escort were inappropriate.





The Aurangzebs are here allaround

24 11 2007

I cant resist saying this otherwise who on earth would go to an extent of killing unknown and anonymous people whom they have not met ever in their life or know their faces for whatever ideology they represent and however true it is.

This report from Hindustan times shows things as they are if not more clear.

Close on the heels of Friday’s blasts in Uttar Pradesh, another email threatening a series of explosions, including an attack on the visiting Pakistani cricket team, is doing the rounds on Saturday.

Television channel ‘India TV’ here claimed to have received an email from “guru_boys2000@yahoo.com” on Saturday morning in which the message threatened the visiting Pakistani cricket team to withdraw from the Test series.

The source and authenticity of the message were yet to be verified. “We will check the message once the television channel hands us over the email,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Alok Kumar said.

Today’s email threatened blasts in various places in Chennai, Ghaziabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Islamabad.

Various Television channels had received an email on Friday also which landed minutes after the first blast rocked the holy town of Varanasi.