Lashkar-e-Jhangvi: Sectarian Violence in Pakistan and Ties to International Terrorism

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 11

The following article is the second and final part of a series on sectarian organizations in Pakistan linked with international terrorism. The first part, Sipah-e-Sahaba: Fomenting Sectarian Violence in Pakistan, appeared in Terrorism Monitor Volume 3, Issue 2.

In the dizzyingly diverse universe of Pakistani Islamic militancy, one organization stands out for its secrecy, lethality and unrelenting pursuit of its core objectives: namely the eradication of Pakistan’s Shi’a community and the eventual transformation of the country into a Taliban style Islamic state. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ – Jhangvi’s Army), firmly allied to the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and with loose links to al-Qaeda, is undoubtedly the most prolific and callous terrorist organization in Pakistan.

The suicide bomb attack at the Bari Imam shrine near the diplomatic quarter of the Pakistani capital, on May 27 which resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Shi’a worshippers (most likely carried out by a LeJ suicide bomber) underscores the intractable intensity and lethality of Pakistan’s sectarian conflict. While focused primarily on Shi’a s, the LeJ often targets western interests in Pakistan and moreover its activities are part of a much broader constellation of Islamic militant agitation in the country which in the mid- to long-term threatens to overturn Pakistan’s military dominated and ostensibly pro-western political system.


Ostensibly a break-away faction of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), LeJ was founded in 1996 by an extremist triumvirate within SSP – namely Riaz Basra, Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaque. Inspired by the ideals of SSP’s founding leader Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Basra and his followers accused the SSP leadership of not following the ideals of its slain leader. Another plausible reason for the emergence of LeJ was the rising violence of Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP), a Shi’a organization formed in 1994, ostensibly to target the leaders of SSP. Many top leaders of the SSP, including Israr-ul-Haq Qasmi and Zia ur-Rahman Farooqi were assassinated by SMP extremists in the following years. However it is widely believed that the split of 1996 was manufactured to protect the political integrity of SSP and enable the so-called breakaway faction to transform itself into a purely paramilitary-terrorist organization. In any case, events since 1996 have proved beyond doubt that the LeJ constitutes the armed wing of the SSP and is ultimately controlled by the leaders of that powerful and Saudi-backed sectarian organization.

In the years since 1996, LeJ has developed into a formidable terrorist organization; according to one estimate, until 2001 LeJ had been involved in at least 350 violent incidents. [1] However the organization has had to contend with severe setbacks. In 2002, more than 30 Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants were killed in numerous shootouts that resulted in the deaths of senior leaders. These included Riaz Basra, who was killed along with three associates near Mailsi in Multan on May 14, and LeJ chief Asif Ramzi, who was slain with six accomplices near Allahwala Town in Karachi. The slayings of Basra and Ramzi dealt a severe blow to the foundation of LeJ and its mother organization, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

A visible crack in the ranks of the organization developed during the Majlis-e-Shura (Supreme Council) held in its former HQ near Kabul, Afghanistan on December 27, 2000. The divisions revolved around the personal ambitions of Qari Abdul Hai, a senior LeJ leader (and a commander of training camps in Sarobi, Afghanistan) who accused Riaz Basra of financial misappropriation. [2] However, the situation normalized with the interference of the Taliban regime and involvement of Jaish-e-Muhammad, but the operational differences remained until the killing of Basra in May 2002. [3] Presently the LeJ is led by its Saalar-i-Aala (Commander-in-Chief), Akram Lahori, one of the founding leaders of the armed group and erstwhile bodyguard of Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Lahori was sentenced to death along with his two associates on three counts of sectarian murders by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi in April 2003, but was later acquitted in one of the cases. The court gave him the benefit of the doubt in the murder case of the Pakistan State Oil Managing Director Shaukat Raza Mirza, who was killed on July 26, 2001. Lahori admitted his involvement in some 38 cases of sectarian killings in Sindh including the June 14, 2002 car bomb blast outside the US Consulate in Karachi, and remains in police custody.

Operational Distinctions

The LeJ differs from many of the other Islamic militant organizations in Pakistan insofar as it shuns media exposure and tries to operate as covertly as possible. Its only outlet to the outside world is occasional faxed messages accepting responsibility for terrorist outrages and through its publication Intiqam-i-Haq. [4] Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has focused most of its attention on Pakistan’s Shi’a minority and Iranian interests.

Some of the more prominent recent attacks on Shi’a s include a July 2003 suicide attack on a Shi’a mosque in Quetta, which resulted in the deaths of over 40 worshippers. A letter issued by the LeJ claimed responsibility for the carnage, indicating that the attack was a protest against Iran, Pakistani Shi’a s, President Pervez Musharraf and the United States. Eight months later, in March 2004, LeJ terrorists bombed another Shi’a mosque, this time slaughtering 47 worshippers. In similar attacks on the Hyderi mosque in May 7, and the Ali Raza mosque on May 31, suspected LeJ suicide bombers killed more than 40 worshipers.

Since the late 1980s a secret war has been taking place in major Pakistani cities, pitting the SSP/LeJ against the Iranian intelligence services and their local Pakistani agents, both Shi’a and Sunni. [5] This war intensified in February 1990 with the assassination of the SSP’s most influential founding leader, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, allegedly carried out by Iranian intelligence agents. This assassination had many repercussions, the most important of which was the creation of LeJ in 1996.

In June 1994, as part of its campaign of revenge for the assassination of Jhangvi, SSP militants took this secret war into Iranian territory for the first time by bombing the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, killing 26 Iranian Shi’a worshipers. The Iranian authorities reflexively blamed the main Iranian opposition group, the Iraqi-based and formerly armed Mojahedin-e-Khalq for the atrocity, but the Iranian intelligence services drew their own conclusions and in subsequent years assassinated several leading members of SSP/LeJ. There is no indication as of yet that the intensity of this secret war between agents of a foreign power and Pakistani religious fanatics is diminishing. Indeed, in early 2005, a Pakistani Intelligence agency report submitted to the Interior Ministry indicated that LeJ cadres have bought weapons from arms smugglers in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and may be preparing suicide missions against Iranian and Shi’a targets in various cities of Pakistan.

Aside from attacks on Pakistani Shi’a s and Iranians, LeJ is also known to have targeted leaders of the Pakistani establishment and western interests. The three most high profile targets of LeJ have been President Pervez Musharraf and two former Prime Ministers of Pakistan— Nawaz Sharif and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. Since 1998, LeJ has been trying to assassinate Sharif without any success; the closest they got was in January 1999 when LeJ militants attempted to blow the bridge on the Lahore-Raiwand road while Sharif was passing. Eid Muhammad, the explosive expert of LeJ, was alleged to have rigged Chaklala Bridge, Rawalpindi, with explosives in an attempt to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf on December 14, 2003. An attack on another former premier, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, was also foiled with the arrest of an LeJ cadre on April 1 2004.

LeJ began to target Western interests in Pakistan after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001. The Taliban was a firm ally of SSP/LeJ and allowed the latter to establish training bases on is territory. Indeed LeJ is believed to have been headquartered near Kabul until the collapse of the Taliban. LeJ militants are believed to have been involved in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in early 2002. The LeJ was also behind the bomb attack on May 8, 2002 in Karachi which killed 16 persons, including 12 French nationals. In another attack, near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi on June 14 of that year, 12 persons were killed. At least five of the 10 terrorists identified by the Pakistani government are believed to be LeJ cadres. While there have been reports that al-Qaeda has used LeJ to attack western interests in Pakistan (particularly the ones listed above), there is little reliable evidence pointing to a contemporaneous relationship between the hardcore of al-Qaeda and SSP/LeJ. It seems that al-Qaeda’s access to LeJ was severed after the slaying of Riaz Basra in May 2002. Basra allegedly maintained contact with al-Qaeda commanders through Harakat Ul Ansar (yet another Pakistani Islamic militant organization).

Interestingly the LeJ has forged a strong operational relationship with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). These links were forged in Afghanistan when both organizations were fighting the Northern Alliance on behalf of the Taliban. Further and more recent evidence pointing to a strong relationship emerged form investigations into LeJ’s endeavors to train female suicide bombers to attack the female quarters of Shi’a mosques. Pakistani intelligence reports have allegedly revealed that Aziza, a woman cadre of IMU has been imparting fidayeen training. [6]

According to Pakistani law enforcement agencies, the LeJ organization is made up of small cells that do not exceed seven members. A majority of LeJ’s cadres are drawn from the Sunni madrasas in Pakistan. Almost the entire leadership of LeJ is composed of veterans of the Afghan Jihad. Moreover, prior to the collapse of the Taliban, the outfit imparted training in the hard terrains of Afghanistan and later deployed its militants all over Pakistan. LeJ training camps in Afghanistan was located near the Sarobi Dam, Kabul. Organizationally, LeJ is widely dispersed with cells and units all over the country, particularly in Punjab.

Notwithstanding its proscription in August 2001, LeJ remains as active as ever; last week’s suicide bombing at the Bari Imam shrine underscores the organization’s lethality and callous disregard for the national unity of Pakistan. There is no doubt that there is widespread revulsion in Pakistan for the type of mindless sectarian violence that LeJ inflicts on fellow Pakistanis. For instance former ISI chief General Javed Ashraf Qazi once dismissed LeJ and similar outfits as “zombies that kill their fellow Muslim brothers”. [7] But despite this popular revulsion, the Pakistani authorities are unlikely to be able to contain LeJ unless they decisively move against its mother organization; Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (now ostensibly named Milt-e-Islamia Pakistan). This is unlikely, given that the latter is a large and powerful organization that benefits from the patronage of the Saudi Arabian establishment. Furthermore sectarian violence is likely to increase as Islamization deepens in Pakistan and the country’s establishment continues to atrophy.


1. Mohammad Amir Rana, Gateway to Terrorism, New Millennium Publication, London, 2003, p. 190.

2. Ibid. pp.190-191.

3. Riaz Basra is believed to have been involved in more than 300 sectarian attacks; it is also believed that he personally directed all attacks on Iranian interests in Pakistan. Before his elevation to the commanding heights of LeJ’s leadership, Basra was the commander of the Khalid bin Walid unit of the Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan. .

4. The name of the publication can mean either “Revenge of Truth” or “Revenge of Haq” (Nawaz Jhangvi).

5. For a list of past high profile attacks on Iranian installations, government agents and civilians by SSP/LeJ, refer to “Sipah-E-Sahaba: Fomenting Sectarian Violence in Pakistan”, Terrorism Monitor, Vol.III (2), January 27, 2005.

6. Amir Mir, The True face of Jihadis, Mashal Books, Lahore, 2004, p. 179.