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.”

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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.





Prophets of doom, Sandeep Unnithan, December 26, 2008

31 12 2008

Source: India today

LASHKAR-e-TOIBA (LeT)
Founded in 1986
Chief:
Hafiz M.Saeed
Attacks: Mumbai 26/11 and Akshardham in September 2002

Hafiz M.Saeed

Hafiz M.Saeed

The biggest and best organised of the anti-India terror groups and with a manifesto professing disintegration of the country, the LeT was founded to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

From the early 1990s, it began infiltrating hundreds of Pakistani fighters to shore up a flagging militant movement and post-Kargil it pioneered the concept of ‘fidayeen’ or suicide gunmen, engaging the security forces in firefights to draw media and world attention.

Closely allied with the Pakistani military and functioning under the guise of a now-banned social organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the LeT is the sword arm of the ISI’s operations in the Indian hinterland.

The LeT draws its cadre from Pakistan’s Punjab province and trains them in camps near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, before infiltrating them across the Line of Control in Jammu and kashmir.

JAISH-e-MOHAMMAD (JeM)

Founded in 2000
Chief:
Maulana Masood Azhar
Attacks: Parliament in December 2001 and Ayodhya in July 2005

Maulana Masood Azhar

Maulana Masood Azhar

Founded by Maulana Masood Azhar a month after he was released for the passengers of the hijacked IC-814, the JeM is the newest terror organisation.

The Jaish and the LeT now form one of the two groups used by the ISI in its war against India. Its biggest operation outside the Kashmir Valley was the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 which nearly triggered off war between the two countries.

Azhar operates out of a fortified compound in Bahawalpur in Punjab province of Pakistan and is one of the three people India wants from pakistan, along with Dawood and Tiger Memon. The group increasingly relies on surrogate bases within Nepal, Bangladesh and the Middle East to move cadres and finances.

HARKAT-ul-JIHADI-ISLAM (HuJi)

Founded in 1989
Chief:
Qari Saifullah Akhtar
Attacks: Assam 2008 blasts, Shramjeevi Express blasts

Another Pakistan-based terror group founded during the Afghan resistance of the Soviet occupation, the HUJI quickly transformed itself into yet another group targeting India in Jammu and Kashmir. Its eastern affiliate set up in 1992— the HUJI (Bangladesh) comprising Bangladeshi veterans of the Afghan war— was declared a foreign terrorist organisation by the US State Department this year.With its tentacles extending from Karachi, Dhaka and Saudi Arabia, HUJI involves the underworlds of Mumbai, Gujarat and West Bengal to supply men, material and finance using hawala channels. In recent years, the HUJI (B) has emerged as the ideal candidate for the ISI’s second front in the east and in its terror campaign against India. Its activists have coordinated their attacks with the LeT, SIMI and the JeM.

HIZBUL MUJAHIDEEN (HuM)

Founded in 1989
Chief:
Mohammed Yusuf Shah Aka Syed Salahuddin
Attacks: July 10 IED blast killing 10 soldiers outside Srinagar

The largest terrorist outfit operating in Jammu and Kashmir, the HuM was founded as the militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, reportedly at the behest of the ISI to counter the pro-independence stance of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. The HuM favoured Islamisation of J&K and its integration with Pakistan. Its activities have so far remained confined to the Valley though the arrest of members from Kerala indicates that the group may be reaching out to the rest of India as well.

INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN (IM)

Founded in 2005
Chief:
Amir Raza Khan
Attacks: Varanasi, Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad in 2008

Mohd. Tauqir

Mohd. Tauqir

The first home-grown terror network not only carried out a string of attacks in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi this year, killing over 100 persons but is believed to have been behind practically every other bomb attack since 2005, including the Mumbai train bombings and attacks in Hyderabad and Varanasi. It was founded by Amir Raza Khan, a mobster from Kolkata who shifted base to Karachi and shuttles between Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Middle East.

Khan founded the Asif Raza Commando Force which carried out the attack on the American Center in Kolkata in 2001 before founding the IM three years ago. The HUJI and LeT-affiliated group was divided into various modules—the Shahbuddin brigade for strikes in south India and the Ghori brigade for attacks in the north.

Key members like Atif Ameen were given training in weapons and explosives at LeT camps in Pakistan. One of the modules led by Ameen, executor of the Delhi blasts was neutralised in the Batla House encounter in Delhi while the media module which sent out detailed e-mails after each strike, was rounded up in Mumbai and Pune. But with key operative Abdus Subhan aka Tauqir on the loose along with a dozen other IM members, including Jaipur-Ahmedabad-Delhi plotters Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, the IM retains the potential to strike back at a place of its choosing.

STUDENTS ISLAMIC MOVEMENT OF INDIA (SIMI)

Founded in 1977
Chief:
Safdar Nagori
Attacks: Provided logistical support in 2006 Mumbai train blasts

Safdar Nagori

Safdar Nagori

When it was banned in 2002, SIMI was always thought of as a radical Islamic organisation.

However, in its years as an underground outfit, it had morphed into a movement which called for targeted killings of political leaders and had evolved a terror agenda.

In March this year, the capture of the ‘Nagori 13’, a group of nearly 50 welleducated, highly-motivated middle class youth led by Safdar Nagori, revealed a group which fed recruits into other outfits like the LeT and HuJI and provided logistics for attacks.

SIMI members also made up the Indian Mujahideen, showing just how amorphous the outfit had become.

THE UNITED LIBERATION FRONT OF ASSAM (ULFA)

Founded in 1979
Chief:
Paresh Barua
Attacks: Serial blasts in Assam, including the October 30 serial blasts which killed 89 people

Paresh Barua

Paresh Barua

ULFA is the classic case of an organisation that began to assert the rights of native Assamese playing into the hands of the ISI. A decade ago, ULFA members were already being trained in the ISI camps and were equipped by Pakistan to wage war against India.

The organisation now has close links with other Islamic militant groups including the HuJI (B) with whom it is believed to have carried out the October 30 blasts— worst terror strike in the North east.

In January 2007, the ULFA killed more than 60 Hindi-speaking migrant workers, of whom most were from Bihar. Currently, ULFA operates out of bases in Bangladesh and is hosted by its equivalent of the ISI—the Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence.