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Friday, 6 March 2009

Lahore terror attack: Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and allied sectarian/jihadi groups involved

From a state of denial to accepting ownership?

Ayesha Ijaz Khan writes in The News (6 March 2009):

While Pakistanis are not completely out of line if they have concerns about India's hegemonic designs and regional threats to their existence (in recent months, these threats have amplified. Yet, equally dangerous, if not more so, is the enemy within); regrettable as it is, it would not be unfair to say that extremism has permeated our society and over the past many decades there has been a systematic transfer of power from the secular segments of society to those claiming to pose as Islamists.

There is too much tolerance for religious posers, and precious little for dissent in secular terms. This is exhibited across the board. The biggest culprits of course have been successive governments, willing to make peace deals with those who threaten the very fabric of our legal and value structure, yet unwilling to accommodate political dissent or civil society activism based on globally-accepted human values.

But the trouble is also evident among large segments of our society at large. Those who hide behind the cloak of religiosity are rarely questioned about their motives or their actions. Even ten years ago, before the menace of Talibanization crept upon us so forcefully, a policeman, for instance, was far more likely to fine a clean-shaven driver as opposed to a bearded one.

I find it ridiculous, for example, when some analysts ask what the extremists would gain by targeting the Sri Lankans and thus further isolating Pakistan. What do they gain by burning girls' schools? What do they gain by mutilating dead bodies? What do they gain by attacking concerts? Isn't it just the spread of panic and fear that they are after? Have they been emboldened further by the deal in Swat?

Najmuddin Shaikh writes in Daily Times:

But if we want to face reality, we must accept that this was a homegrown attack. If it had foreign financing and perhaps some foreign planning, the finger should point not only towards our eastern border but also to the north of our own country. It is there that those who found shelter now find themselves under pressure, which can best be relieved if their sympathisers in Punjab — and there are plenty of those — can be motivated to create chaos and anarchy in the capital of the country’s largest province.

Najam Sethi writes in Daily Times:

No one will disagree that it was premature on the part of the media to start discussing an “Indian hand” in the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3. Relying on a CID letter warning the government weeks in advance that the attack would be launched by India’s secret agency RAW, the media took off, bringing in commentators and analysts who were already wedded to the idea from their ideological convictions. But the campaign is coming unstuck even as it unfolds.....

The agencies have been finally forced to look for “local groups”, and that means the vast jihadi network now working for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Because of their old linkages within the state institutions, these groups are able to plant “information” on our security personnel to confuse them and get them to ignore the real culprits. There is an unending stream of reported evidence that the jihadi organisations of Punjab are all aligned with Al Qaeda and have been involved in acts of terrorism planned by it. Yet, all TV discussions avoid naming them, preferring to focus on “foreign hands” that are never finally revealed.


Lahore Liberty ambush: Defunct outfit involvement revealed

Updated at: 0915 PST, Friday, March 06, 2009

Gunmen carrying their weapons

Gunmen carrying their weapons as they leave on foot after the ambush on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore

ISLAMABAD: A defunct religious outfit ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team and the assailants had come from the tribal areas.

Sources said that the law enforcing agencies have dug out evidences against the attackers, which revealed that the terrorists having links with Afghanistan give rise to this conclusion that Al Qaeda was also indirectly involved in the Libery tragedy.

Sources said that the two vehicles near the Big City Plaza, which were used for Sri lankan team’s ambush had come there early in the morning and no one checked them. Sources said that the terrorists, who has stayed in the Youth Hostel, took part in the action, while the other accomplices had stayed at Kot Lakhpat and Township Area. Secret agencies have found out from the record obtained from cellular phone that the terrorist’ four associates were present around Qaddafi Stadium, who in touch among themselves through mobile phones---one of them stationed near Punjab University new campus, other at Lahore Canal near Qaddafi Stadium, the third one at nearby Boulevard, while the fourth in the Firdaus market area.

Sources claimed that the terrorists kept using the station code for Sri Lankan team van and as soon as the van reached Liberty Chowk, the terrorists told each other that the ‘station’ was about to arrive. According to information, among the 14 terrorists a few belonged to Lahore, while others came from the tribal areas armed with explosives RDX highly inflammable.

Sources said that a breakthrough has been achieved as plausible evidences have been obtained and some crucial arrests could be made in the next one/two days.




Investigators see LeT footprints in Lahore attack
By Mubashir Zaidi and Irfan Raza
Friday, 06 Mar, 2009 (Dawn)

ISLAMABAD: Investigators are zeroing in on the footprints of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), according to preliminary investigations by the Joint Investigation Team probing Tuesday’s attack on Sri Lankan cricketers at Lahore’s Liberty Chowk.

Sketchy details of the initial probe suggest that a group of headstrong Lashkar activists, who went underground and remained in hiding in Rawalpindi after the crackdown on Lashkar and Jamaatud Dawa in December, had acted on their own and carried out the attack.

Although officials would not confirm the involvement of Lashkar, they categorically ruled out the possibility of involvement of the Indian spy agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as no evidence has been found so far pointing in their direction.

At least eight people, six policemen among them, were killed after 12 gunmen attacked the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers to Qadhafi Stadium.

The attack has killed hopes of any international sports events in Pakistan for months, if not years, and seriously damaged Pakistan’s reputation to host any international sporting event, including the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

The prime minister’s adviser on interior, Rehman Malik, refused to comment on the investigations when asked.

‘At this moment I can only say that investigations into the Lahore attack are going in the right direction. We have also involved the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) to determine the identity of the attackers,’ he told Dawn.

Interestingly, officials working at Nadra told Dawn that they had no facility to match the sketches with the database. ‘It is a very expensive technology and we do not have it here. So Nadra cannot do anything in this regard,’ a top official of Nadra said.

But asked specifically about the involvement of Lashkar in the Lahore attack, Mr Malik said he could not reveal anything at the moment. ‘The preliminary report will be finalised by Friday. At this moment I can only say that reports regarding the involvement of LeT are speculation,’ he added.

Later he told reporters in Parliament that al Qaeda could be involved in the attack. He also said so far investigations had not yet found any Indian connection.

He told journalists that the involvement of India’s Raw had not been proved so far. But, he added, the final answer could only be given once the investigations were completed.

Mr Malik claimed that investigators had not found any link between the attackers and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a key Pakistani suspect in the Mumbai attacks and the alleged trainer/handler of the suicide squad that wreaked havoc in India’s commercial hub in November last year.

But he refused to share details with media of the arrests made by the law enforcement agencies so far.

The investigators involved in the probe believe that the attackers got their commando training in the camp of Lashkar’s operational commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi as their modus operandi had similarities with the Mumbai attackers.

Lakhvi was detained by authorities on suspicion of involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks. He was picked up from his camp in Muzaffarabad on Dec 10 last year.

Investigators believed that one of the attackers had assured the chief suspect in Mumbai terror attacks that his followers would take revenge against Pakistani authorities for his arrest and subsequent trial.

The authorities have also approached Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, who is currently under detention at his Johar Town residence in Lahore, to help authorities in tracking down the attackers.



Pakistan IDs cricket attackers, security concerns mount

Sketch of four of the terrorists wanted in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 4.

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) — Authorities in Pakistan said they had identified the gunmen who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team, as international concern mounted Friday over how the security plans failed.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, home to two officials caught up in Tuesday's deadly attack in the city of Lahore, demanded to know how up to 12 men were able to stage the assault, killing eight and wounding seven players.

Footage of the gunmen's getaway has raised questions about Pakistan's ability to combat Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants, who have carried out scores of attacks here over the last two years and are the main suspects.

"We have identified the people who did the operation," provincial governor Salman Taseer told reporters in Lahore late Thursday.

Police released sketches of four suspects and have brought in around two dozen people for questioning but no leads have been announced.

Taseer said he would comment further after reviewing an interim investigation report due Friday.

The gunmen fired on the Sri Lankan team convoy with automatic weapons, grenades and a rocket launcher as the vehicles travelled to Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium but all the attackers fled without a trace.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which left a total of 19 people injured.

In Australia, Rudd said he was unhappy about the security concerns expressed by Australian cricket officials travelling with the team.

"I am sufficiently concerned about what has been said by the Australians that we need an explanation, and we intend to get one," he told a radio interviewer on Friday.

Simon Taufel, one of the umpires travelling in the convoy with the Sri Lankan team, said his bus had been left unprotected once the assault began.

"You tell me why supposedly 20 armed commandos were in our convoy and when the team bus got going again, we were left on our own? I don't have any answers to these questions," he said.

Pakistan lawmakers have accused the government of a "serious security lapse", highlighting reports that authorities were warned of a possible attack.

The top government official for Lahore conceded Thursday there were gaps in the security provisions made for the Sri Lankan team.

"A terrorist has to succeed only once, whereas security has to be successful all the time. After every incident one gets wiser. You get to know all the gaps and how you should not repeat those gaps," Khusro Pervaiz told AFP.

More than 1,600 people have been killed in attacks over the past 22 months in Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have forged a base in the rugged, lawless northwest along the border with Afghanistan.

For decades, Pakistan's ISI military intelligence agency has fostered Islamist militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and there are suspicions that some ISI elements have links to militants inside the country.

The South Asian country's long history of unsolved political attacks includes the assassination in December 2007 of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Tuesday's attack was also a serious blow for cricket in Pakistan, as the International Cricket Council raised doubts about whether it could still co-host the sport's 2011 World Cup.

New Zealand has indicated a tour of Pakistan set for November will likely be called off.



March 6, 2009

Gunmen who attacked cricketers in Lahore 'had links to al-Qaeda'

Pakistan has identified the gunmen who attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore and arrested some key suspects, including the brother of the suspected mastermind, according to several officials.

Most of the two dozen detainees belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the outlawed militant groups with close links to al-Qaeda, security officials have told The Times.

Senior police officials said that the men behind Tuesday morning's attack might also have links to other militants fighting in Pakistan's lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

However, it remained unclear last night whether those arrested included the gunmen who killed eight Pakistanis and injured six Sri Lankan players and one British assistant coach in Lahore. Salman Taseer, the Governor of the eastern province of Punjab, said only that the Government had identified the attackers but refused to give details until the investigation was completed.

“We have found a lot of evidence. We have recovered the weapons. We have identified the people who did the operation,” he told a news conference in Lahore.

Police also released sketches of four of the 12 gunmen, and Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, said that a preliminary investigation report would be released today.

Some Pakistani officials have said that the attack bore the hallmarks of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group blamed for the attack on Mumbai in November.

But a senior Home Ministry official said that it appeared to be the work of al-Qaeda, which has masterminded previous attacks in Pakistan, including last year's suicide bombing on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad.

He said the investigation showed that Tuesday's attackers were from Punjab and North West Frontier Province, which has become the main battleground between militants and Pakistan's armed forces.

Intelligence sources said that southern Punjab had become the main centre of radical Islamic activities in the country. Despite a ban, groups such as JeM and LeJ had expanded their influence in the area, drawing recruits from among rural poor, they said.

Most of the gunmen involved in the attack on Mumbai in November came from the same region.

JeM has become a virtual extension of al-Qaeda and was blamed for most of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan after the country become an ally in the US-led War on Terror in 2001.

LeJ is an extremist Sunni sectarian group whose members overlap with JeM. It has also been involved in al-Qaeda-led attacks in Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistan President, voiced criticism of the security arrangements yesterday, saying that the special police guarding the Sri Lankan team should have responded and killed the attackers in less than three seconds.

“That should be the level of training that I expect from an elite force ... we need to improve that standard,” he said.



Terrorism in Pakistan

State of denial

Mar 5th 2009 | LAHORE
From The Economist

The culprits behind the latest outrage

AFP Not a cricket shot

FOR many foreigners, events in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, on March 3rd confirmed their view of Pakistan as a hotbed of terrorism. A dozen masked gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying Sri Lanka’s national cricket team, killing six policemen and two others, and wounding seven cricketers and a British coach. But for many Pakistani pundits, quick to appear on television, events fitted another familiar pattern: Pakistan as victim of Indian conspiracy.

In January Punjab’s intelligence service had warned the police that India’s spies were planning to attack the Sri Lankan team. Now the pundits claimed the ambush was intended as retaliation for the attack on Mumbai in November in which more than 170 people were killed, to show that Pakistan was a security risk. As evidence, they pointed to the assailants’ escape: Pakistan’s Islamist terrorists, went the argument, make sure to kill themselves as well as their victims. To bolster their case, they cited India’s crowing over its decision not to send its own cricket team, for which Sri Lanka’s was standing in, and its leaders’ complaints, after the attack, about Pakistan’s intact terrorist “infrastructure”.

This far-fetched analysis, and the refusal to accept the reality of Pakistan’s terrorist problem, owes much to the religious-nationalist leanings of many young but influential television presenters. Their opinions were formed by the distorted education they received under General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s dictator from 1977-88. So, despite many occasions when al-Qaeda has claimed attacks in Pakistan, many Pakistanis refuse to believe the group exists, let alone that it is dangerous for their country.

In fact, however, a former high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official has given The Economist a much more plausible explanation for the Lahore attack: that it was the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). This sectarian group, which also put New Zealand’s national cricketers to flight in 2002 after it exploded a bomb outside their hotel in Karachi, now works closely with an al-Qaeda/Taliban network in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

It has been blamed for several atrocities, including the bombing last September of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, for which al-Qaeda this week also claimed responsibility, in a message to the Saudi embassy in the capital. According to the intelligence source, the security forces last year caught an LeJ terrorist, who is still in custody. He has confessed to being trained to carry out a suicide mission during a proposed international cricket tournament last year that in fact was shifted elsewhere.

In a society beset by Islamist violence, including some 60 suicide-bomb blasts in each of the past two years, this latest attack was less bloody than many, but nonetheless remarkable. Sri Lanka’s decision to send its revered cricketers to Pakistan, despite fears for their safety, was a brave act of South Asian solidarity from a country with terrorism troubles of its own. Its foreign minister this week visited Pakistan and offered condolences for the deaths of those killed protecting his compatriots.

That Pakistan has proved unable to provide effective security for the Sri Lankans, despite extraordinary efforts by Lahore’s police in the face of a manifest threat to their lives, is dispiriting. It seems reasonable to suppose that many of Pakistan’s dwindling foreign visitors, of all stripes, will now stay away from the country. At a time of economic duress, partly related to the country’s deepening insecurity, this will have repercussions far beyond cricket.

For many Pakistanis, however, the outcome for the country’s favourite game will be bad enough. It is almost unimaginable that other national sides will want to tour Pakistan in the near future. Pakistan’s ambition to be one of the hosts of the 2011 World Cup is surely in tatters. Though not quite the source of public hysteria that it is in India, cricket is one of Pakistan’s few unifying forces. Moreover, at a time of national shame over the many atrocities committed by Pakistan-reared militants at home and abroad, their cricketers’ performances were an export of which Pakistanis could be genuinely proud.



Terror war comes to Lahore
Reality check

Friday, March 06, 2009
Shafqat Mahmood

They are destroying everything that made life normal. A game of cricket with a visiting foreign team, gave a message of well being. This made cricket an enemy. The resolve of the Sri Lankans to help Pakistan project an image of peace was heroic. This made them a target.

It is about time we understood that the real enemy is within. It may be comforting to blame outsiders; and nothing can be ruled out in the murky world of spy wars. But, this cannot be an excuse to deny that we have a problem.

This is not of American origin or Indian design. America began the rot by bankrolling a surrogate army to fight the soviets in Afghanistan. India raised the temperature by letting lose a reign of terror in Kashmir. But, we nurtured and nourished these non state actors as an adjunct to our normal security apparatus.

What we did not consider was the cost to the country or the blow back that this will create. The power of the gun is a heady brew. Those using it become accustomed to attention and to intimidation to get their way. They were not going to melt away just because a certain politician or General said that time has come for them to go back to their shops or ploughshares. Even expecting anything like this was fool hardiness.

Myths were also created to place these organizations in the mainstream of our national narrative. These are good people who will never fight the Pakistani state, we were told. Their enemy is only India and their theatre of operation the Indian occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, that they are within our control and will do as they are told.

Time has shown these beliefs to be total fabrications. They have never shied from committing acts of terror within the country. From the bombing of French engineers in Karachi to sectarian wars in Punjab and now the attack on the Sri Lankan team, the footprints of these organizations are everywhere.

They have reached a level of strength where they have become completely autonomous. There has been serious speculation for some time that the attack on the Indian parliament was carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad. Pakistani intelligence operatives had no clue about it.

The Mumbai attack is now recognised to be a Lashkar-e-Taiba event. The government has half accepted this and more is to come. Again, despite some reckless accusations by Indian politicians, Pakistan intelligence agencies had no advance information of it. Even later, it was only the investigation and reportedly confessional statements by some of the accused that lay bare the details of the plan. The legendary Pakistani agencies were clueless.

Not being aware of operations by organizations that traditionally worked closely with them is not good for the intelligence agencies. While it creates plausible deniability, it also shows how autonomous these jihadi outfits have become. Spy games are not about mounting operations. Those are rare.

Good intelligence is all about information. When available, it can help prevent the bad and encourage the good. No information means being completely out of the loop and having little ability to influence events. This is paralysis and a nightmare for the agency concerned. Ultimately, it reflects a weakness of the state. That seems to be happening in this case.

There are reports on Wednesday evening, as I write this, that about five of the accused involved in Sri Lankan firing have been arrested. If these are the real people, it is possible that we may find out their true motive. But, without knowing much, I can predict that these attacks on the bus of the Sri Lankan cricket team had a fair amount to do with the arrest of LeT members and their expected trial in the near future.

Horrendous as this tragic attack is in which so many policemen have lost their lives and some Sri Lankan players injured, this should be seen as test of our resolve. If we buckle under and start making appeasing noises, the terrorists would have succeeded. This is a time to keep the pressure on and show that acts of terror will not deter us from trying criminals who use our territory to wage war outside.

We should also stop legitimising them by placing their acts in a context of anti-Americanism. This is what some people are doing when analysing events in FATA and Swat. The assumption is that if somehow the Americans would disappear from Afghanistan, all would be well.

This is balderdash. American presence in Afghanistan has indeed created a sanctuary for some Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas but extremist elements in other parts of the country have an agenda of their own. Pamphlets have begun to appear in Lahore markets and other places essentially targeting women. They should be modestly dressed and not shop alone etc. More is likely to come.

The seeds of extremism have been sown in all parts of the country. It is now almost a cliché to blame the madressah system for the spread of extremism but like most clichés it has a great deal of truth in it. Particularly in southern Punjab, the impact of the madressahs largely funded by Saudi money is huge.

These alternatives of education and nourishment are sucking in thousands among the poor. They otherwise would have no option but to depend on the state school system, which is in an abysmal state. It also does not provide meals. Mundane as this may sound it is not something to be scoffed at. Unless the state is able to compete with these alternatives, the battle for the hearts and minds of the poor is lost.

To create the possibility of winning, the state will first have to acknowledge internal terrorism as a serious problem. Despite much mouthing of right words, there is no evidence that a comprehensive holistic plan has been made to fight extremism. This involves, besides better policing, a combination of better services and a much better access to health and education for the poor.

In other words, investing serious money into the fight against extremism is essential. It would involve modernising the police force, creating greater capacity among prosecutors and court systems, and, investing in services for the poor. It is this three-pronged strategy that will possibly turn the situation around. This hand wringing and mouthing of pious slogans by the leadership would not get us anywhere.

While hopefully someone will pay attention to this, let us pause and say a silent prayer for Pakistani cricket. For many of us, it was not a sport but a passion. A cricket match would be more than a sporting contest. It was a gladiatorial fight and a social event rolled into one. Now for years to come, no one will come here. Another element of our way of life has come to an end.

This is not the passing of a torch from one generation to the other. This is a paradigm shift. We are not leaving a better world behind.

Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com



For further information about Lashkar-e-Jhangavi, read:

Book Review: The True Face of Jehadis - By Amir Mir

ISI supported Lashkar-i-Jhangavi and Sipah Sahaba in killing Shias in Pakistan

For a detailed account of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi reign of terror in Pakistan, read:


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