SALAFIST WAR ON SUFI ISLAM SPREADS TO PESHAWAR
The bombing of a famous Pesahawar shrine dedicated to a local Sufi saint is the latest episode of what appears to be an effort to define a new ethnic and religious identity in the northwest frontier region of Pakistan. The March 5 attack on the mausoleum of Rahman Baba, the most famous poet of the Pashto language and a major figure in the Pashtun cultural heritage, caused severe damage after explosives were lodged against the shrine’s pillars (The Nation [Islamabad], March 10). The bombing occurred the same day as a rocket attack on the shrine of Bahadur Baba in the Nowshera District of the NWFP, 40 km north of Peshawar (Daily Times [Lahore], March 10). Militants had warned the custodians of both shrines against the Sufi tradition of praying to the dead saints, a practice viewed as heresy by the Salafists, whose Saudi-influenced concept of monotheism excludes any intercession with God by revered Islamic figures, including the Prophet Muhammad.
The attack on the Rahman Baba mausoleum is believed to be the work of the Lashkar-i-Islam, a Salafist militant group responsible for previous attacks on Sufi shrines, including the March 4, 2008, rocket attack on the 400-year-old Abu Saeed Baba shrine in the Khyber Agency that killed ten people. Rahman Baba was an 18th century poet whose work espoused the virtues of love and tolerance. His shrine has been a center for devotional Sufi music and singing by the Pashtun communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan since his death. Ten years ago, the Arab and Pashtun students of a new Saudi-funded Wahhabi madrassa down the road from the shrine began taking it upon themselves to prohibit traditional Sufi activities at the shrine as “un-Islamic.” Frequent assaults on visitors to the shrine have caused a significant drop in visits.
The leader of the nearby Haqqania madrassa outlined his objections to Sufi attendance at the Rahman Baba shrine: "We don’t like tomb worship. We do not pray to dead men, even the saints. We believe there is no power but God. I invite people who come here to return to the true path of the Qur’an. Do not pray to a corpse: Rahman Baba is dead. Go to the mosque, not to a grave" (Pakistan Observer, March 8). The local Salafists appear to have been particularly enraged by the tradition of female Sufis singing at the shrine and attempted to impose a ban on all visits by women (The Hindu, March 9).
There have been other attacks on Muslim shrines in the Peshawar area in the last two years, including the December 2007 bombing of the shrine of Abdul Shakur Malang Baba and the attempted destruction of the shrine of Ashaab Baba just outside Peshawar in 2008 (Daily Times, March 10). Sufi shrines attended by both Sunnis and Shiites have in the past been special targets of those seeking to promote sectarian strife in Pakistan. A bombing at the shrine of Pir Rakhel Shah in March 2005 killed at least 50 people on pilgrimage; two months later a suicide bombing at the Bari Imam shrine outside Islamabad killed 25 and wounded over 200 (Himalayan Times, March 20, 2005; AFP, May 29, 2005). The Salafist campaign of tomb destruction has brought the Taliban and other Salafi Islamist groups into conflict with the descendants of Sufi saints who wield considerable political power in Pakistan (The Nation, March 10).
Large protests followed the most recent attacks, which had cross-border repercussions in Afghanistan and India. President Asif Ali Zardari has announced the federal government will assume responsibility for rebuilding the shrine of Rahman Baba, while the Kakakhel tribe has said it will undertake the reconstruction of the Bahadur Baba shrine (The News [Islamabad], March 7; March 10). The practice of destroying the tombs of Sufi saints has also been adopted by the radical Islamist al-Shabaab movement in Somalia, costing them considerable support in that traditionally Sufi nation.
SUDANESE JIHADIS DECLARE INTENTION TO CARRY OUT 250 SUICIDE BOMBINGS IN UNITED STATES, FRANCE AND UK
A coalition of militant Salafi-Jihadi groups in Sudan has threatened to carry out 250 “martyrdom operations” in the United States, France and the UK in response to the issue of a warrant by the International Criminal Court for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war-crimes (Akhir Lazha [Khartoum], March 10). The strikes would target “world imperialists and CIA agents” in the three countries in what was described as “another September 11 attack” (Sudan Tribune, March 11). The statement was also carried by a number of jihadist websites. The coalition, calling itself the Coalition of Jihad and Martyrdom Movements, also called for the assassination of ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and Khalil Ibrahim, the Zaghawa leader of Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Khalil Ibrahim’s movement staged a spectacular but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Bashir regime last May by sending a convoy of JEM fighters by truck all the way from the Chad border to the suburbs of Omdurman. The statement described Ibrahim and the Paris-based Abd-al-Wahid Muhammad Nur (the Fur leader of a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army/Movement – SLA/M) as “Zionist agents,” an accusation commonly made by the Khartoum regime as a consequence of the leading role played by Jewish organizations in Darfur activism. The coalition announced the formation of joint brigades under a unified command to carry out jihad and rid Darfur of colonialist “filth.” The coalition also declared its intention to coordinate with other global jihadist movements.
The new threats follow a February 21 warning from Sudanese intelligence chief Salah Abdallah Gosh (who has worked closely with the CIA on counterterrorism issues despite being labeled as one of the architects of the Darfur crisis) of the consequences of an ICC warrant for al-Bashir: “We were once fanatical Islamists, but we have become moderates and now believe in coexistence and peace. However, we will never break apart and have no choice but to revert to our fanaticism in order to manage our battle with the ICC” (Al-Sahafah [Khartoum], February 21).
The statement was issued on March 9 by a group of mostly unknown Salafi-Jihadi militant groups, all apparently based in Sudan. Most notable of these was the Liwa’a Isud Darfur (Darfur Lions Brigade), which, according to the statement, is led by Shaykh Musa Hilal, the most prominent and powerful of the Janjaweed leaders in Darfur.
Musa Hilal’s involvement in the terrorist threat is interesting, as he remains an official of the Sudanese government, serving as Adviser to the Ministry of the Federal Government since January 2008. The statement was carried in Sudan by Akhir Lazha, an Arabic-language daily thought to have close connections to Sudanese intelligence and the ruling National Congress Party led by Omar al-Bashir. In late February, Musa Hilal promised to mobilize 30,000 of Darfur’s “finest mujhahideen” to ensure anyone who supported the ICC would “pay the price” (Al-Intibaha [Khartoum], February 27). JEM has accused Musa Hilal’s men of responsibility for the March 11 kidnapping of three Darfur-based members of relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (AFP, March 13).
The other groups signing the statement are extremely obscure. They include; Jama’at al-Shahid Abu Qusaysah, Jama’at Ansar Allah al-Jihadiya al-Salafiya, Jama’at al-Bahisin al-Shihada and Jama’at Liwa’a al-Shahid Ali Abd al-Fatah.
Four soldiers belonging to United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were wounded by gunfire from an unknown source in Western Darfur the same day the statement was issued (AFP, March 10). Neither Sudan nor the United States has ratified the treaty establishing the powers of the ICC.