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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Suicide bombers’ Who’s Who - Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad - By Amir Mir

Suicide bombers’ Who’s Who
Amir Mir (Amir Mir is a senior journalist, and a brother of the famous TV host Hamid Mir)


LAHORE: Intelligence agencies believe the endless wave of deadly suicide bombings, climaxing with one of the deadliest 9/11 type attack on the Islamabad Marriot on Saturday, signify the revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban networks, which had been forced out of their bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

From the rugged, lawless terrain of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) out west to the spiffy environs of Islamabad, the suicide bombers across Pakistan have made the whole swathe of land their laboratory and the target of these grisly human bombs is anyone, anywhere.

The security situation in Pakistan has been in utter turmoil for the past two years, and it went from bad to worse after the Lal Masjid episode. Since then, it appears that the extremist forces have not only gained strength in the tribal areas but also got a foothold in the country's settled areas. This can be gauged from the fact that even Islamabad is not spared by the human bombs. Investigations by intelligence agencies show the involvement of several kinds of extremist groups in the ongoing spate of suicide strikes.

The first are those which had either been linked with the fanatic clerics of the Lal Masjid or had sympathies with them due to their ideological affinity. Investigations show some of the suicide bombers had been the students of the Ghazi Brothers and some were the relatives of those killed during the Operation Silence. The agencies have already concluded that most of the suicide attacks were carried out by young men in their 20s, coming from the Fata.

As soon as the Operation Silence came to an end in July 2007, the agencies had warned the government that the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were to suffer from suicide attacks as over 100 potential human bombs, who had been studying at the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia, had not returned to their homes after the operation.

They had warned that the prospective bombers were hiding in several Madrassas and mosques in and around the twin cities and were firm to blow themselves up anytime, anywhere to avenge the killing of their near and dear ones. The fears proved true after Rawalpindi and Islamabad witnessed a series of bloody suicide attacks, mostly targeting those in khakis.

An 18-year-old suicide bomber killed 22 highly trained commandos of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army by targeting their Tarbela Ghazi mess, 100 km south of Islamabad, on September 13, 2007. Investigations showed that he was the brother of a girl who was killed during the Operation Silence, carried out by the Karar Company of the SSG Brigade.

The SSG is the same elite unit of the Army to which Musharraf himself belonged. It was specially trained by the US Special Forces for carrying out covert operations and counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations across Pakistan, especially in the tribal belt. Two months before suffering 22 casualties in the Tarbela Ghazi suicide bombing, the elite SSG had lost its 10 commandos, including a colonel, during a weeklong gun battle with the fanatic clerics and students of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.

The second kind of groups involved in suicide attacks are those linked to al-Qaeda and Taliban networks based in Waziristan on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt. Intelligence reports say Islamic rebels allied to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda have literally taken control of the entire North Waziristan tribal area on the Pak-Afghan border, gaining a significant base to resist the US-led forces in Afghanistan as well as the Pakistani security forces, especially through their highly motivated suicide bombers. These reports say the security agencies are mostly being targeted by suicide bombers being trained and launched by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Ameer Baitullah Mehsud -- an al-Qaeda-linked tribal chief of the Mehsud tribe, who is ruling the roost in South Waziristan. Mehsud has been named as the prime accused in Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Intelligence reports say Abu Ali Tunisi, an al-Qaeda-linked commander hailing from Tunis, has managed to bring the rebels of four Pakistani militant groups -- the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), the Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) -- under the folds of al-Qaeda. Their main aim is to launch a string of terrorist activities, targeting the personnel of the armed forces and all those government figures who are considered to be pro-US. Intelligence circles say besides the Abu Ali Tunisi network based in Waziristan, there is another group led by one Abu Adil -- a militant of Arab origin -- which is working under the name of Al-Jehad. This group was involved in the November 2006 suicide bombing that killed 42 soldiers in Dargai, NWFP. Al-Jehad is further accused of carrying out four other suicide strikes in Islamabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Mir Ali -- all in 2007.

The last kind of the groups involved in suicide attacks are sectarian, primarily the banned militant Sunni group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Launched in 1996 as a splinter group of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni Deobandi offshoot of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the LeJ is infamous for its secrecy, and unrelenting pursuit of its aim of targeting Western interests in Pakistan and the Shias. They want an eventual transformation of the country into a Taliban-style Islamic state. Most of the major terrorist operations carried out in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks appear to have a common grandmother -- the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

The intelligence sources say all these groups, identified and classified under three different categories of terrorist groups, follow their own techniques for achieving their objectives and use different mechanisms to attack their targets. The group comprising the toughest motivation category is to hit military installations with the help of suicide bombers. They include trained, skilled and equally motivated terrorists.

The second category of bombers attack personnel of law-enforcement agencies and government personalities while the third is deputed to kill the enemy through car bombings or blasts through remote-controlled devices. The message from the human bombs after the Marriot attack is clear -- we can hit you anywhere we want.

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