NEW DELHI: Evidence is emerging that Pakistan-based jihadi groups, responsible for a string of recent terror strikes in India, provided infrastructure to the men held in the United Kingdom on Thursday for planning to bomb several trans-Atlantic flights.
Pakistani police believe that several of the 24 men held in Birmingham and London travelled to Pakistan after the October 2005 earthquake as volunteers for the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s parent political organisation. The men are thought to have worked near Balakot in the North-West Frontier Province, a region where the Lashkar has a strong presence.
Under circumstances which are still unclear, the men were then taken to camps run by Jundullah, a jihadi organisation close to the Al-Qaeda, in the Waziristan area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Hamid Hayat, a terrorist held in 2005 for planning terrorist strikes in the United States, is also known to have trained at an Al-Qaeda linked camp in Balakot, run by Harkat ul-Mujahideen chief Fazl-ur-Rahman Khalil.
After finishing their earthquake relief work, the suspects visited top terrorist Syed Omar Sheikh at a jail in Sindh. Sheikh, a British national, was among the three released by India in the prisoners-for-hostages swap forced by the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandhahar. He was later arrested and sentenced to death for the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, although the execution is yet to be carried out.
Pakistan announced on Thursday that Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed had been placed under house arrest — a move experts believe is intended to facilitate his prosecution should it be proved that the outfit had a direct role in facilitating the trans-Atlantic plot. India has demanded that Pakistan act against Saeed and the Lashkar for their role in the serial bombing of Mumbai in July, which claimed 185 lives.
It could take months to establish the architecture of the networks that supported the transatlantic bombing plot, but it is increasingly evident that terror groups operating against India also feed jihadi cells targeting the U.S. and Europe. Fluid networks, constructed around alliances built in right-wing seminaries, have defeated the efforts of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to ensure that jihadi actions are directed at the east alone.
Jundullah, or God’s Army, is made up of Pakistani Islamists who turned against their ISI patrons’ efforts to block actions against the West. In 2004, Jundullah operatives attempted to assassinate the commander of the Karachi-based V Corps, Lieutenant-General Ahsan Saleem Hayat. Jundullah also executed a suicide bombing near the U.S. consulate in Karachi in March 2006 on the eve of President George Bush’s visit.
Ata-ur-Rahman, Jundullah’s chief, had past links with the Khalil’s Harkat — the terror group that gave birth to Sheikh and his mentor, Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar, who was also released by India in the hijack swap, went on to found the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Interestingly, Khalil, Azhar and Sheikh were all students at the Jamia Islamia seminary in Karachi, run by Hamid Hayat’s maternal uncle, Qari Saeed-ur-Rehman.
Jaish cadre have often collaborated with the Lashkar to execute major terror strikes in India, including the 2001 attack on Parliament. Mohammad Waliullah, a cleric who police in Uttar Pradesh say organised the serial bombings in Varanasi this March, was a long-standing Jaish operative. Jaish-affiliated figures in Ahmedabad are also believed to have facilitated the Lashkar’s 2002 strike on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.
Rahil Abdul Rehman Sheikh, a Lashkar operative Indian intelligence believes organised the serial blasts in Mumbai last month, in turn worked closely with the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami — an organisation with which Khalil has long-standing links.
His earliest known recruit, Feroze Ghaswala, trained at a Harkat facility in Bangladesh, while Sheikh himself is now thought to be hiding in that country.