Lashkar-e-Toiba: New Threats Posed by an Old Organization

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 4

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT – Army of the Pure) is the most well-organized and powerful Islamic militant organization in Pakistan. Designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and banned by the Pakistan government after the September 11 attacks, and notorious for its suicide attacks in India, LeT is currently experiencing internal organizational difficulties. Although the present phase of relative inactivity might mislead analysts into believing the group has lost its teeth, there are clear indications to the contrary.

The key to understanding the ideology that drives the young cadres of LeT to suicidal attacks lies in the genesis of the organization and the philosophy of its founders. Three scholars, Hafiz Saeed and Zafar Iqbal of Lahore’s Engineering University, and Abdullah Azzam of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, established Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad (MDI – Center for Religious Learning and Social Welfare) in 1987. LeT grew out of this center and effectively represents its militant wing. The seed money of Rs 10 million (approximately US$200,000) reportedly came from Osama bin Laden. The link between Bin Laden and the center was Abdullah Azzam, considered to be a founding inspiration for the Palestinian HAMAS and a religious and political mentor of Bin Laden. Several of Azzam’s speeches and publications are used as textbooks to motivate and indoctrinate LeT cadres.

The headquarters of MDI is located on a sprawling 200-acre plot of land at Muridke, 30 kms from Lahore. This is the nerve center of the organization and the coordination center for its organizational, jihadi and educational activities. The center houses a madrasa, a hospital, a market, a large residential area for scholars and faculty members, a fish farm and agricultural tracts. The center is heavily guarded by gunmen patrolling entry points round the clock. [1] The MDI runs 16 Islamic institutions, 135 secondary schools, five madrasas, an ambulance service, mobile clinics and blood banks across the country. [2] The center publishes its views and opinions through its website (http://www.jamatuddawa.org/), an Urdu monthly journal, al-dawa, which has a circulation of 80,000, and an Urdu weekly, Gazwa.

LeT has 2,200 offices across the country and an estimated two dozen launching camps along the Line of Control, an unmarked border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Two LeT training camps are located at Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir. The training is divided into two phases – Daura Aam (basic phase) and Daura Khaas (special phase). During the first phase, a 21-day period, students are motivated to internalize jihad as an exclusive life-long mission, mainly through intensive exposure to semi-mythical stories glorifying the lives and exploits of Islam’s historical martyrs. The second phase lasts for three months and involves weapons training, ambush and survival techniques.

However, what really drives the organization’s ideological indoctrination and the rigors of its jihadi training is a concept evolved by Hafiz Saeed. His unique approach has been to merge Islamic education with modern curricula, thus ensuring a balance between religious and secular training. [3] This is designed to enable the group’s loyal cadres to innovate alternative models of governance and development while learning fighting skills. Saeed believes that jihad is essential for achieving political power. Jihad, he said during the All Pakistan Ulema Convention held on July 17, 2003 at Lahore, is the only way Pakistan can move towards dignity and prosperity. [4]

LeT’s foray into jihadi activities began with the setting up of military training camps in the eastern Afghanistan provinces of Kantar and Paktia in 1987-88, ostensibly to fight the Soviet occupiers. Although the group only had a minimal impact Afghanistan, it was nonetheless taken seriously by Pakistani intelligence (ISI) which sought to involve the LeT in the campaign against India.

In the early 1990s, Saeed directed his group to concentrate on Kashmir before taking up the cause of liberating Junagarh (a tiny enclave in the Indian State of Gujarat) and Hyderabad (at present the capital of the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, but which before partition was a Muslim-ruled princely state). The group carried out several spectacular suicide attacks and terrorist operations in India, including sending militants to occupy mountain tops in upper Drass and Batalik, the ridge overlooking the town of Kargil in Kashmir which saw the most recent conventional battle between the two nuclear neighbors in the summer of 1999. The most daring, however, was the attack on the Indian Parliament House on December 13, 2001, barely two months after the terrorist attacks in America which led the U.S. and Pakistan to impose a ban on the group, freeze its bank accounts and severely restrict Saeed’s activities. Undeterred, Saeed addressed the media on December 24, 2001, outlining his plans to reorganize and strengthen LeT. He was arrested on December 31, 2001, but was set free in November 2002.

Saeed’s brief incarceration, however, triggered both real and cosmetic changes within the organization. The MDI was separated from LeT, and renamed “Jamaat ul-Dawa” (JuD) and Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri appointed as the new chief of LeT. Kashmiri quickly declared that the group was shifting its base of operations to Indian-ruled Kashmir. However, the ostensible change in leadership and operational strategy was spurious and essentially designed to circumvent the proscription. Informed observers are in no doubt that Hafiz Saeed remains in charge of LeT. However a subsequent split led by Maulana Zafar Iqbal, who later formed “Khairun Naas” (People’s Welfare) was real, and led to serious tensions within LeT. While the group is still grappling with the ramifications of this split, observers speculate that LeT has not been significantly weakened in the process.

In fact these internal difficulties – coupled with growing external pressures – have prompted a clear change in Saeed’s outlook: He has now decidedly turned against the U.S. Addressing the Pakistan Ulema Convention at Lahore, Saeed said: “We do not fear America. We can defeat it through Jihad very easily, but General Musharraf is holding us up. He has become the biggest enemy of jihad, and if we can get him out of the picture, we can take care of the infidels.” [5]

Well-known Pakistan journalists and commentators have documented how Saeed and his group managed to avoid sanctions despite Pakistan’s commitment to the War on Terrorism. In the two years following 9/11, the group collected Rs 710 million ($1.5 million) in anonymous donations and gifts [6] There are also reports that the group collected $280,000 in Britain alone, where over 675,000 Muslims of Pakistani origin are currently in residence. The group runs at least two training camps, stocked with weapons and ammunition, in Muzaffarabad. In March 2004, Saeed said the group had recruited more than 7,000 youngsters for the Kashmir jihad. He also claimed that over 800 of them had so far died in Kashmir.

The most worrying aspect of these developments is not LeT’s continuing operations in Kashmir alone but the group’s linkages with criminal syndicates and its determination to expand its funding and logistical operations beyond the Indian subcontinent. It has allegedly set up sleeper cells in the U.S. and Australia, trained terrorists from other countries and has shown a willingness to enter new operational theatres like Iraq.

According to some reports the group has been buying weapons with the help of Cambodian traffickers, linked to the Chinese-led Snakehead syndicate. Two years ago, the FBI busted LeT sleeper cells in the states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania and arrested 11 men who were later indicted for conspiring to “[P]repare for and engage in violent jihad on behalf of Muslims in Kashmir, Chechnya, the Philippines and other countries.” The indictment alleged that some of the accused had been to Pakistan to train with LeT.

In April 2004, Australian authorities dismantled a similar cell when they arrested 34-year-old Faheem Khalid Lodhi and subsequently charged him with planning a terrorist attack. The authorities alleged he was a leader of LeT in Australia. [7] Previously the Australian authorities had deported a French national, Willie Virgile Brigitte, whom they alleged had ties to al-Qaeda. Brigitte had reportedly trained with Lodhi at LeT camps in Pakistan. Brigitte reportedly told the French judge hearing his detention case that there were 2,000 to 3,000 mujahideen in the LeT camps. [8] On September 22, 2003, Pakistani authorities arrested 15 Malaysian and Indonesian students studying in various madrasas run by LeT in Karachi; the detained included Gun Gun Rusman Gunawan, brother of Jemaah Islamiyah’s operational commander and senior al-Qaeda leader, Hambali.

In June 2004 The Hindu reported the arrest of an alleged LeT operative, Danish Ahme, in Basra by British forces and alleged that over 2,000 men had signed up for LeT-led operations against U.S. troops in Iraq. The report’s claims are borne out by LeT’s Urdu weekly, Gazwa (Assault on the Unbelievers), which consistently calls on mujahideen to make their way to Iraq. [9]

Notwithstanding its rhetoric and ambitions, LeT is unlikely to engage in serious terrorist operations outside the Indian subcontinent. Nevertheless, the potential for it to strike against Western targets in Pakistan and India is all too real, especially since it is under increasing pressure from all sides. Moreover the gradual improvement in India-Pakistan relations may motivate LeT to engage in spectacular operations to sabotage the tentative peace process. Last October, addressing a gathering in Lahore to honor LeT mujahideen slain in Kashnir, Saeed called the dialogue a fraud and alleged that India was putting pressure on Musharraf through the U.S., to restrict the activities of his group. [10] Given its size and influence, the relatively sophisticated nature of its ideology and the quality of its cadres, the new type of threats posed by LeT have to be taken seriously by all parties concerned.

Wilson John is a Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, India.

Notes:

1. Muhammad Amir Rana, A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan, Mashal Books, Lahore, 2004, pp. 328-340.

2. Amir Mir, The True Face of Jihadis, Mashal Books, Lahore, 2004, pp. 100-105.

3. Saeed Shafwat, The Rise of Dawat ul-Irshad and Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation, ed. Christopher Jaffrelot, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2002.

4. “Musharraf Blocking Jihad Against US: Hafiz Sayeed” Daily Times, July 18, 2003 (http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_18-7-2003_pg7_24).

5. “Musharraf Blocking Jihad Against US: Hafiz Sayeed” Daily Times, July 18, 2003 (http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_18-7-2003_pg7_24).

6. Mohammad Shehzad, “Banned LeT Collects Millions in Charity” South Asia Tribune, Issue No.35, March 23-29, 2003 (www.satribune.com/archives/mar23_29_03/P1_hides.htm).

7. Mark Forbes, “Charged Student Linked to Brigitte” The Age (Australia), April 17, 2004. (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/16/1082055649736.html?oneclick=true).

8. “French Al Qaeda Man Tells All to Interrogators” Daily Times, October 21, 2004.

9. Gazwa, October 15-22, 2004.

10. www.jamatuddawa.org, October 12, 2004 (translated from the Urdu website); and also Gazwa dated October 15-22, 2004.