Al Qaeda is training hundreds of radicals in Pakistan and Kashmir to send them as “sleeper cells” in the United states, The Washington Times said on Tuesday quoting US and foreign officials.
As many as 400 radicals have been trained or are in training in special camps, and dozens have already been routed through Europe to Muslim communities in the United States, said the officials who cited intelligence data and information from people detained by US authorities.
US intelligence officials alleged that the camps operate in remote regions of western Pakistan and in Pakistan-administrated Kashmir and were financed by various terrorist networks including Al Qaeda and sources in Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, denied the existence of such training camps in Pakistan or in Kashmir, in an interview with The Washington Times. “We have never accepted the allegation that there were training camps here, not now, not ever. These allegations have persisted despite our repeated denials. I assure you there is absolutely no reason to believe that any terrorist camps exist in Pakistan or Kashmir,” Mr Qazi told The Times.
The unnamed US and foreign intelligence officials quoted by the daily, however, insisted there was evidence of camps and that military officials and others in the administration of President Pervez Musharraf had not fully dissociated themselves from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They said the training camps in Kashmir were operated by the Harakatul Ansar (HUA), a group tied to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The HUA has been tied by US and foreign intelligence officials to the January 2002 abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Other camps are operated by a US-banned group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT), the armed wing of Markazud Dawa-wal-Irshad.
The Times report said that 11 men, including nine US citizens, were arrested last year in Virginia in what authorities called the “Virginia jihad.” The men were accused in a 41-count grand jury indictment of engaging in “holy jihad” to drive India out of the disputed Kashmir territory. Six have since pleaded guilty. The indictment said some of the men travelled to LT camps in Pakistan, where they were trained in the use of various weapons. The indictment also said the trips occurred both before and after the September 11 attacks.
Al Qaeda sleeper cells are believed to be operating in 40 states, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal authorities, awaiting orders and funding for new attacks in the United States. Financed in part by millions of dollars solicited by an extensive network of bogus charities and foundations, the cells use Muslim communities as cover and places to raise cash and recruit sympathisers.
Last month, Pakistan and India announced a new round of peace talks on Kashmir, in which Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the target of two recent assassination attempts, said Pakistan had agreed “not to allow the use of Pakistan’s territory anywhere in the world” for terrorism.
Gen Musharraf said his government would act to “eradicate” extremists in Pakistan. “We will get to them, I am sure,” he said.
Since September 11, Pakistan has publicly ordered a clampdown on terrorism and arrested hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda members and associates, transferring many of them to the United States. The captured include Abu Zubaydah, the organisation’s top recruiter; Ramzi Binalshibh, paymaster for the September 11 hijackers; and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, chief of operations for Osama bin Laden and mastermind of September 11.