Peshawar blast death toll rises

8 03 2009

Source: Al jazeera

The bodies of more victims were uncovered on Saturday from the wreckage of the blast [AFP]

The death toll from a car-bomb attack on a crowded market in northwest Pakistan has risen to 27.

Police found six more bodies among the wreckage on Saturday, a day after the blast which went off close to a market in Peshawar called Qissakahani bazaar.

About 100 people were wounded when the car bomb went off on Friday, wrecking a Shia mosque, a hotel and setting a string of vehicles and shops ablaze, Mohammed Khan, a local police official, said.

A 12-year-old boy was among the victims of the explosion, which hit the city as crowds of people were out shopping in the run-up to the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

“We found six bodies buried under the debris of two destroyed hotels and one adjoining house. Among the dead was a 12-year-old boy and a woman,” Noor Mohammad, another local police official, said.

“The powerful blast brought down several buildings and destroyed over 50 vehicles.”

Deadly explosion

Television footage showed survivors frantically carrying bloodied victims through the rubble to private cars and ambulances as firefighters sought to douse the flames.

Some witnesses said the explosion ripped open a natural gas pipeline, creating a blaze that spread to nearby buildings and shops.

In Video

Peshawar after the blast

“The fire broke out again Saturday morning and firefighters were called in to put it down,” said Mohammad Khalil, whose shop was gutted by the flames.

Neither the motive nor the culprits behind the blast were clear, but Haider Khan Hoti, the head of the NWFP government, said it was possible that “external forces” could be to blame.

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reporting from Peshawar, said that the phrase could refer to Indian involvement.

Zaffar Abbas, the Islamabad editor of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, told Al Jazeera: “This was different in the sense that it was carried out in a public place, rather than any of the security forces being the target.

“That is where the speculation is that it could be external forces.”

‘External forces’

“The reason for that is that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have a major fight on their hands in Afghanistan and therefore more and more people here are inclined to believe that what is happening on the Pakistan side has a foreign dimension to it,” he said.

Some witnesses said the explosion ripped open a natural gas pipeline starting a blaze [AFP]

“There is also a considerable anger in this city – as well as the country – after allegations were hurled at Pakistan for what happened in Mumbai.”

The Peshawar bombing was the second blast in a Shia area in the northwest of the country on Friday.

Further adding to concerns about “external forces”, a suspected US missile attack reportedly killed three people in a stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda near the border with Afghanistan.

There have been more than 30 suspected US missile attacks inside Pakistani territory since August

In another development, Pakistan’s Dawn daily reported on Saturday that the country’s security forces had been put on high alert after a hoax caller pretending to be India’s foreign minister contacted Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president.

High alert

The incident occurred on November 28, two days after the co-ordinated attacks on Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The caller ignored Zardari’s conciliatory language and directly threatened to take military action if Pakistan failed to act immediately against the supposed perpetrators of the slaughter in Mumbai.

Throughout the next 24 hours Pakistan’s air force was put on “highest alert” as the military watched anxiously for any sign of Indian aggression, the report said.

Dawn’s Abbas told Al Jazeera: “To some extent there was an escalation in tension. There was a bit of panic in Islamabad. The security forces started to assess the whole situation and some drills were carried out.

“But to say the war was imminent is a bit of a exaggeration because there are still two lines of communication between the two countries.

“So, no, nobody was going to war. But the alarming thing is that this kind of phone call can create this kind of panic.”

Pakistani officials said the caller ID was a New Delhi number, and some believe the call was made from India’s external affair’s ministry.

But Indian officials have denied this to US counterparts and maintained that the number could have been manipulated, Dawn reported.

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Lahore ‘Cricket’ attack may mark a shift in Pakistan

4 03 2009

Source: Asia Times

By Syed Saleem Shahzad, March 04, 2009.

KARACHI – Pakistan might recently have signed peace deals with militants in its tribal areas, including with vehement anti-establishment Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but militants on Tuesday staged a brazen attack in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province and the second-largest city in the country.

The attack by 12 heavily armed gunmen on a convoy escorted by police transporting Sri Lankan cricketers to a match against Pakistan has set off alarm bells in the capital Islamabad that militants are now taking their battle into major urban centres.

At least five people died and six of the cricketers were injured in a 25-minute battle in which militants wearing backpacks and carrying AK-47s, rockets and grenades fought police. The assailants then all fled. The Sri Lankan cricketers have called off their tour and are heading home immediately.

The attack bore some similarity to that of 10 well-armed gunmen, also with backpacks, who rampaged through Mumbai in India last November, killing 140 people. They were later found to have connections to the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“This was a planned terrorist attack. They had heavy weapons,” Salman Taseer, who heads the provincial government as governor of Punjab, was reported as saying. “These were the same methods and the same sort of people as hit Mumbai.”

Numerous Pakistani analysts have been quick to point a finger at India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for staging what they say is a tit-for-tat attack on Tuesday, although there is been no official announcement in this connection.

A press attache at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Islamabad thought it highly unlikely that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who a waging a bloody separatist war in Sri Lanka, had anything to do with Tuesday’s events.

Rather, judging by what was shown on Pakistani television, the attack is the hallmark of those that were waged by militants (many of them Punjabi) against Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir up until a few years ago. They were trained by the Indian cell of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

In 2005-06, these militants joined forces with the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan resistance after Pakistan closed down their training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a move that changed the dynamics of the war theater in the region. Beside the Mumbai attack, Tuesday’s assault was similar to the storming of the Serena Hotel in the Afghan capital of Kabul in January 2008 and the unsuccessful July 2008 attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. In all of these incidents, the attackers abandoned their weapons and quickly melted into a thickly populated area of the city where, apparently, they were whisked away by waiting colleagues.

Retired Lieutenant General Hamid Nawaz, a former interim minister the Interior and a close aide of former president General Pervez Musharraf, commented to Asia Times Online, “This proves that striking peace deals [with militants] will not serve any purpose and there is a need to handle them with iron hands. I blame the government for negligence.

“Providing a single elite police commando bus was not enough. They should have been provided VIP [very important people] security like the state provides for governors and chief ministers. Traffic should have been blocked on their route,” Nawaz said.

Former Pakistani cricketer Zaheer Abbas said, “I am not a politician to comment on who was behind it, but it has damaged Pakistani cricket very badly. I don’t understand why anybody would target Sri Lankans because they don’t have any role in the region. There might be some forces who want to damage the cause of Pakistan and Pakistani cricket.”

Possible attackers

Pakistani analysts, including retired General Hamid Gul, who is a former head of the ISI, blame India’s RAW.

However, there is no precedence for RAW having the capability to carry out such attacks in Pakistan. Its operations in Pakistan have been of two kinds, according to the records of Pakistani security agencies, documented in files and books narrated by their retired officials:

Small bomb blasts in urban centres.

The use of Indophile political parties such as the Awami League in 1970, the Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party, the Baloch separatist group the Baloch Libration Army and the Muttehida Quami Movement.

However, these parties were always used in a limited political context. For creating a law-and-order situation in the country, RAW has always used bomb blasts and other small-level sabotage activities. It has never had the capacity, like the ISI had in India, to use armed groups to carry out guerrilla activities in Pakistan.

More pertinent is to view Tuesday’s attack in the context of the peace deals in the Swat Valley and the tribal areas which have stopped the fighting between ethnic Pashtun-dominated militants and the Pakistani army.

Prior to the signing of the deals, the matter of the release of militants who did not belong to the Swat area was raised, that is, non-Pashtun militants. These included Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was apprehended while trying to flee the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad in July 2007.

However, after deciding on the level of compensation packages for the families of militants killed or injured by the security forces and other matters related to Swat and the tribal areas, the matter of non-Pashtun militants was deferred and the peace agreements were signed.

In effect, non-Pashtun militants have been ignored and the attack in Lahore could be a bloody message to the government that the “Punjabi militants” have the capacity to cripple urban centres at any time and place of their choosing.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com






Pakistan evasive on ‘army link’ to Mumbai attacks

26 02 2009

NEW DELHI: The 11,000 page chargesheet into the 26/11 Mumbai attacks which was presented in a Mumbai court on Wednesday has thrown up some interesting findings.
Investigations have revealed that the VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) calls made by the 26/11 terrorists to their handlers have been traced to a serving colonel of the Pakistani army.
However, the Pakistan army downplayed its link to the Mumbai terror carnage and said that the chargesheet filed on Wednesday is very vague on the link.
Speaking to TIMES NOW, Brigadier Azmat Ali, Pak army spokesperson said, “Chargesheet does not accurately identify armyman allegedly linked to 26/11. There are many Colonel Sadatullahs in the Pakistan army. We are trying to find out if this is true or it is all a media speculation.”
Though the chargesheet filed does not spell out the Pakistan army link explicitly, it does name the officer as Colonel R Sadatullah from the SCO.
The SCO, army sources say, stands for Special Communications Organization, a telecommunications agency of the Pakistani government which is run by officers from the army’s signals corps.
Another name mentioned in the chargesheet is that of `Major General sahab’ whose name crops up repeatedly in the taped conversation between the terrorists and their handlers.





200 witnesses listed in 26/11 chargesheet

25 02 2009

Source: NDTV

Rashmi Rajput
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 9:19 AM (Mumbai)

The 26/11 case stands on a huge body of evidence and most importantly on eyewitnesses who saw the terrorists unleash the carnage.

The list includes police officers who were part of the 26/11 operation, Indian survivors from the Taj, Trident and Nariman House, Railway employees at the CST station who were present there on that fateful day, staff at the GT and Cama Hospitals, forensic experts , press photographers who clicked images of the terrorists, Vinod Masani — the owner of MV Kuber on which the terrorists travelled to Mumbai and Harish Sharan, the owner of the Skoda car hijacked by Qasab on night of 26/11.

The chargesheet will also include statements of the US-based CallPhonix employees — the company through which the and handlers routed their calls using VOIP.

“We got information that the terrorist were at the terrace of Cama hospital. So we took one of our teams since we were familiar with the topography,” Additional Commissioner of Police, Crime Deven Bharati said.

These men are among the 200 witnesses who have been listed in Mumbai police’s chargesheet and will play a key role in nailing Ajmal Amir Qasab.

“When I got information, I went with my team and asked the neighbours to vacate the premises,” said Ishaq Bhagwan, Assistant Commissioner of Police.

These were ordinary citizens — policemen, hotel employees of the Taj and Trident and hospital staff among others whose statements are vital to the case.

“I saw these remorseless young guys. And at that time our only priority was to save people’s life. So, we continued with the announcements,” said V D Zende, an announcer at Mumbai’s CST station.

The chargesheet is believed to be running into 10,000 pages and will include the detail accounts of these eyewitnesses.

“It was somewhere around 9.30 when I heard a loud explosion, loud sound of gunfire and grenade when I saw the terrorists. They were two young boys in backpack and looked like collegeans. As soon as the constables fired, they returned fire. It was then I clicked the pictures. I just kept shooting. I was trailing to get more. Everybody praised me next day but I just did my job,” said Sabistan D’souza, a press photographer.

FBI officials are also likely to be summoned as witnesses because they have helped the Mumbai police gather key forensic and technical evidence. But sources say they may depose through videoconference once the trial begins.

5,000 pages of Kasab charges in court today

By Our Correspondent

Mumbai

Feb. 24: An entire chargesheet, of over 5,000 pages, will be translated into Urdu to be given to Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only Pakistani terrorist captured alive during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

While the original chargesheet, more than 5,000 pages, will be filed in court by crime branch officials on Wednesday, the translated version will be given to Kasab after a few days.

“We shall be giving him a chargesheet translated into Urdu soon,” confirmed Mr Deven Bharti, additional commissioner of police, crime.

Investigators are leaving nothing to chance and have even booked Kasab for entering the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) without a railway ticket. “Kasab has been booked under various acts, including the Arms Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Explosives Act, Customs Act, waging war against the country and other various sections of the Railway Act. Entering the railway premises without a proper ticket is also one among the various offences registered against him,” said joint commissioner of police (crime) Rakesh Maria.

The crime branch will file a chargesheet clubbing all the 12 cases registered against the 10 terrorists on Wednesday. This will be presented in the Esplanade court, which is expected to direct it to the sessions court. The sessions court will in turn mark it to the special court constituted to conduct the trial.

The police is, however, tight-lipped regarding whether Kasab would be present in court on Wednesday. “We shall be filing the chargesheet on Wednesday. However, we have yet not decided whether to produce Kasab. We have to take into account several security factors. We shall take a call on it by Tuesday night,” said Mr Rakesh Maria.

According to a senior crime branch officer, the chargesheet shall answer all the 30 questions raised by Pakistan after they registered an offence against Kasab. The chargesheet shall also contain the statements of several FBI officers whose statements were recorded by a three-member team that visited the US a fortnight ago. “The officers shall depose in court through video-conference when the court seeks it,” he said. A total of over 200 eyewitness accounts shall be part of the chargesheet.

The government has appointed Justice M.L. Tahiliyani as the special judge for the 26/11 terror attacks trial. While special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam shall represent the prosecution, Kasab is yet to appoint a lawyer to represent him.





The terror tree

24 02 2009

THE KINGPIN Abu Al-Qama

PoK-based chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s India operations. In his 50s.

THE second rung

Amir Raza Khan

Heads Indian Mujahideen, reports to Al-Qama. Was behind the Kolkata American Center attack of January 2002

Roshan Khan alias Riyaz Bhatkar

Former Fazl-ur-Rehman gangster, IM co-founder. Name cropped up in 7/11, Malegaon blasts probes

Mohd Sadiq Israr Sheikh (32)*

From Sanjarpur, Azamgarh; IM co-founder.

“Controlled” Delhi blasts. Worked as techie in Mumbai

NEXT IN LINE Atif Amin

Headed IM’s Delhi module; executed bombings in Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad. Was killed in Jamia encounter, reported to Sadiq

ASSOCIATES*

Afzal Mutalib Usmani (32)

Stole the 4 Navi Mumbai cars used in Ahmedabad, Surat

Mohd Zakir Sheikh (28)

Scrap dealer, helped plant Gujarat bombs

Mohd Arif Sheikh (28)

Mumbra electrician, built circuits used in Ahmedabad, Surat

Sheikh Mohd Ansar (31)

Software techie, cops probing if he hacked WiFi networks





100-day anti-terror plan gets green signal

24 02 2009

Source: Indian Express , India
Maneesh Chhibber
Posted: Feb 23, 2009 at 0323 hrs IST

New Delhi: A 100-DAY plan to make the country a safer place is ready and sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) say P Chidambaram has already ordered its implementation. The go-ahead was given at a high-level meeting chaired by him on Friday.

The plan was one of the first things that Chidambaram told bureaucrats to work upon after assuming charge as Home Minister of the country, after the Mumbai Terror attacks. His lead probably came from the speech of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a conference of state police chiefs recently, in which he suggested a 100-day plan to develop an integrated mechanism to fight terrorism and Naxalism.

The Indian Express was provided exclusive access to the blueprint of what is the biggest-ever exercise undertaken by the MHA to counter terrorism and give more firepower to the forces and other agencies.

Among other things, the plan aims to secure the country’s porous borders, make the state and central police forces better equipped to counter foreign terrorists and Naxalites, construct more roads along the India-China and India-Pakistan borders, develop more integrated border check-posts and immigration checks posts, fully activate the newly set-up National Investigation Agency by May 31, amend the Official Secrets Act, launch more operations in Naxalite-affected areas, operationalise the four new National Security Guard hubs and provide more personnel and better arms to the CRPF and SSB.

Under the plan, the scheme for flood-lights for 2,840 km of Indo-Bangladesh border would be completed by January 20, 2012. This, the ministry, hopes would help check inflow of illegal Bangladeshis.

The ministry is also seeking the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for constructing 509 border outposts — 383 on the Indo-Bangladesh border and 126 on the Indo-Pakistan border.

To secure the coasts, the MHA plan provides for inducting the first batch of 24 interceptor boats by April. These would include 12 boats each of 12 tonne and five tonne capacity. Sources said the ministry had already started working on updating the standard operating procedure (SOP) for terrorist outrage under its crisis management plan. As part of this revamp, it also intends to upgrade the MHA control room.

To counter Naxalism, the ministry is reviewing its guidelines for incentives for surrender and rehabilitation of Naxalites under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme. It has also decided to include the Khunti and Ramgarh districts of Jharkhand in this scheme. Anti-Naxal operations have already been launched in Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and Kanker (Chhattisgarh).





Mumbai attackers had hit list of 320 world targets: Report

20 02 2009

Source: TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) ringleaders had ambitions well beyond Mumbai and had placed India’s financial hub in a list of 320 worldwide locations as potential targets for commando-style terror strikes, Britain’s daily Guardian said in a report published on Thursday.
According to the report, western intelligence agencies that accessed the computer and email account of the Lashkar’s communications chief Zarar Shah found a list of possible targets, only 20 of which were in India.
Two of the November 2008 attack’s key planners – Shah and Lashkar’s operations chief Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi – are now in police custody in Pakistan.
Analysts say the computer list is more of a statement of intent because Lashkar would need time to set up terrorist cells in so many places.
Islamabad’s decision to bring criminal charges against nine men accused of involvement in the Mumbai attack has partly placated Indian officials but the government in New Delhi has said it wants to see people brought to justice for terrorist acts.
“There has been some speculation that raids in Spain which netted 12 men- an Indian and 11 Pakistanis – were a result of the investigations into Lashkar’s role in the Mumbai attacks,” the report said.
“The dozen men were reportedly picked up for forging passports and other travel documents for terror organisations, including al-Qaida.
Pakistan’s government has said the Mumbai attacks were partly planned from Spain.
The US has been trying behind the scenes to coordinate intelligence exchanges between the two nuclear-armed rivals. The CIA has worked hard to be seen to help New Delhi – including by recovering phone numbers deleted by the terrorists on their satellite phones.
India has also received crucial evidence from the US agency FBI in connection with the 26/11 attacks.
Intelligence agencies have warned that Mumbai raises the spectre of a new style of terrorist assault. The city was brought to a halt by 10 heavily armed gunmen rampaging through the CST railway station, a house, restaurant Café Leopold, and hotels Trident-Oberoi and Taj for three days, killing over 180 people.