PAKISTAN RELEASES LASHKAR-E-JHANGVI LEADER
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has released Malik Mohammed Ishaq on bail, a key figure in the Sunni sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), after 14 years in prison (AFP, July 14). Ishaq is believed to have masterminded the deadly attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3, 2009 near Lahore’s Mu’ammar Gaddafi stadium while behind bars. Ishaq was released on approximately $12,000 bail from Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore whereby he was greeted by hundreds of supporters who showered him with rose petals (AP, July 14). Ishaq has, even while behind bars, managed to maintain a working relationship with the Pakistani state. It has come to light that when a cell of suicide bombers from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the Pakistani Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in October 2009, Ishaq was summoned from his cell and flown in a military aircraft to Rawalpindi—along with three other major jihadi leaders – in an attempt to negotiate with the TTP attackers who were holding an estimated 42 men hostage (The News International [Islamabad], July 15). Ishaq’s release may become a serious strain on Pakistani-Sri Lankan relations. The Pakistani military establishment has particularly close bilateral relations with their counterparts in Colombo who tilted toward Pakistan after the disastrous Indian Peacekeeping Force era in Tamil-majority northern Sri Lanka from 1987-1990 sullied Indo-Sri Lankan ties. Following Ishaq’s release, three other men accused of being involved in the LeJ attack near the Liberty roundabout were also freed on bail by the Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore (Colombo Page, July 16).
Shia-majority Iran will be none too pleased, either, as Ishaq is accused of assassinating an Iranian diplomat in the southern Punjabi city of Multan in one of dozens of murder counts with which he has been charged and not convicted (The Express Tribune [Karachi], July 16). When Ishaq marched proudly out of jail, he made strident statements while greeted by fellow anti-Shia jihadi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan’s (SSP) Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi. The SSP’s Ludhianvi told those assembled that he and Ishaq would defend the honor of the sahabas (the early companions of the Prophet Mohammed), perceived by many as a slight against the region’s Shia minority (Press Trust of India, July 14). Ishaq is in sync with hard-line elements of Pakistan’s judiciary who continue to uphold the Islamic Republic’s immensely controversial blasphemy laws. An entirely unrepentant Ishaq, who maintains his innocence, defiantly told Geo TV’s Najia Ashar in a recent interview: “We will use all legal resources for Sunni cause and for upholding the sanctity of the companions of the Prophet and we would work against those using foul language against the companions of the Prophet” (Geo TV, July 14). Now free after nearly 14 years in detention, there is no indication Malik Ishaq, an unreformed Deobandi extremist, will not do everything in his power to continue to stoke sectarian violence in a Pakistan whose security has deteriorated considerably since he was first incarcerated.
LIBYAN REBELS CLAIM ATTACK ON SENIOR REGIME FIGURES
Libya’s western-recognized rebel movement claimed a daring rocket propelled grenade attack on a Tripoli hotel on July 21, 2011 where senior Qaddafist officials were holding a meeting (Reuters, July 23, 2011). Ali Essawi, the Foreign Affairs minister for the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council (TNC), claimed that Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoud, Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi’s Prime Minister, was injured in the attack while he was meeting with Abdullah al-Sanussi and Seif al-Islam al-Qaddafi (al-Jazeera, July 23, 2011). In Libya’s western rebel stronghold of Nalut, rumors swirled about said rocket attack on regime officials but it was not possible for the author to independently verify these claims. Some of the first talk included the possible death of Sanussi, but this petered out as no journalist in the tightly controlled capital has been able to actively investigate this claim.
Essawi described the location where the assault took place as an “operation center” and continued vaguely, “One person was left seriously injured” (AFP, July 23, 2011). Predictably, Qaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim promptly denied reports of any such attack. A later report speculated that it was in fact Mansour Daw, a senior Qaddafi aide, who was injured rather than al-Mahmoud (Reuters, July 23, 2011).
If the rebel operation indeed took place deep within the Libyan capital, which at the time of this writing is impossible to either prove or disprove, it would demonstrate a degree of operational capability inside Tripoli that has, until now, while often touted, eluded the oft boastful movement. A pro-Benghazi website reported in a brief statement issued by the TNC; “We can confirm this [attack]” without providing any specifics (Libya.tv, July 22, 2011). Rebel sources based in Libya’s western Jebel Nafusa region insisted to the author that Sanussi was indeed killed in the RPG attack while Daw was critically injured and was rushed to an intensive care unit across the border on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba. Sanussi, a brother-in-law of Qaddafi, is being subjected to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague along with Seif al-Islam. The uncertainty regarding the whereabouts or fate of either Sanussi or Daw has faded into the background in light of the assassination of top TNC rebel chief of staff Abdel Fattah Younes (al-Jazeera, July 29, 2011). Younes was killed in as yet unclear circumstances after being asked to return to Benghazi from near the Brega frontline for questioning regarding rumored pro-Qaddafist links (Reuters, July 29, 2011).