Pakistan under pressure following the London attacks

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 14

Pressure continues to pile on Pakistan over the visit to Pakistan by the London bombers months before the attacks on July 7. Immigration officials have established that two of the four suspected bombers (both of Pakistani origin) — Shahzad Tanweer and Mohammed Siddiq Khan — traveled between November and February to the port city of Karachi. Following a wave of arrests in the wake of the London bombings of over 100 individuals suspected of links with militant groups, Pakistani police announced on July 19 that seven Islamic militants from two al-Qaeda-linked militant groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammed, with links to the London suicide bombers, were being held at Lahore. Shahzad Tanweer spent a few days at a religious school in Lahore, a city where many militant groups have clandestine operations, and investigators are seeking to establish whether the bombers were in the country for military training or operational direction.

According to the Pakistan Times, security officials have confirmation that Shahzad Tanweer made a separate trip to Faisalabad last year to meet with Usama Nazir, a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed, who confessed to the meeting taking place before his arrest in November on suspicion of helping plan a grenade attack in 2002 on a church in Islamabad that killed five people, including two Americans. The other suspect, Mohammed Siddiq Khan, is linked to a cell of young Britons of Pakistani origin based in the UK town of Luton, which was broken up following information gleaned from a computer seized last year from Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan [].

The role of madrasa education in Pakistan is also under renewed scrutiny, adding to the pressure on President Pervez Musharraf since a report published on April 18 by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group noted that the Pakistani Government had “allowed religious organisations, jihadi groups and the madrassahs that provide them with an endless stream of recruits, to flourish.” []. Though traditionally centers for basic religious learning, the rise of jihad culture in the 1980s and the period of Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan gave them a greater role. From just over 100 madrasas at the time of independence in 1947 their numbers have mushroomed to something over 13,000, and brought along with it an increased influence as a political and social force. Although the Pakistani government claims to have severely reduced their influence, some remain outspoken, judging from the comments made by Maulana Samiul Haq the head of the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khatak, near Peshawar, that “Jihad is an essential part of Islam,” and “the bomb attacks in London are the reaction against the British Government’s support for America’s war against Muslims.” The madrasa, popularly known as the “University of Jihad”, was the cradle of the Taliban militia, with many of the movement’s leaders alumni of the school.

The focus on the existence of al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan was highlighted recently by the arrest of a number of U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin. One of the detainees, Hamid Hayat, gave details of an al-Qaeda-backed training facility he attended, where “structured paramilitary training” courses that included tuition in arms, explosives and hand-to-hand combat were attended by “hundreds of attendees from various parts of the world.” Two more British national detainees are of interest to investigators hoping for leads to other sleeper cells in the United Kingdom: Zeeshan Hyder Siddiqui, allegedly trained as a bomb-maker, and part of the ‘al-Hindi’ group that had earlier plotted to bomb several pubs, restaurants and rail stations and underpasses in London, and Haroon Rashid Aswat, whose name was uncovered based on information from the cell phone of one of the July 7 London bombers. Aswat is suspected to be the same British-born Muslim of Indian descent who is connected to a previous plot to set up a terror training camp at a ranch in Bly, Oregon, and is increasingly being suspected as the mastermind to the London bombings. The more high profile figure associated with that attempt is the London-based Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who has been indicted by American prosecutors, and whose extradition trial in London began two days prior to the July 7 bombings.

Pakistani officials have insisted that these al-Qaeda training camps, in particular the training center located at Shakai in South Waziristan, have long ceased to function, following a crackdown launched by the military in January 2004 in the tribal areas. According to the Pakistan daily Jang, a total of 65 militants perished in the suppression of the camp []. However, the crackdown has largely affected only the major camps familiar from al-Qaeda propaganda videos, where training was carried out in the open. Since that time, training for the mujahideen is considered to have been dispersed and gone underground, to be carried out by small isolated groups no longer in direct contact with senior al-Qaeda operatives. Instead the guiding influence is more likely from Pakistan militant groups sharing the same radical militant agenda, such as Harkat-ul-Mujahedin, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These groups are adept at dissolving themselves and re-emerging to sidestep government pressures.

Evidence that groups are operating efficiently ‘under the radar’ comes from the statistics of raids carried out this year. According to the Pakistani Daily Times, the raid in the Shakai valley unearthed extensive video equipment, and a base where propaganda materials were produced and edited, along with dozens of computers, CD-ROMs and tapes ready for distribution locally and in the Arab Gulf region []. But it was not only in isolated rugged terrain that such materials are being discovered, but also in densely populated areas. In this environment security authorities have recovered not only the materiel of war, but also extensive literature giving training in explosives and terror methods. In particular, computers and CD-ROMS were seized which contained instructions on how to convert common materials such as agriculture fertiliser into deadly bombs, and adapt timers from domestic appliances as detonators. This means that expertise in the guerrilla arts is very much available in Pakistan to individuals such as the British bombers. The need for elaborate training facilities has also been minimised by the change of tactics, where militant organizations appear recently to be focusing on hit-and-run operations or suicide attacks. These low-intensity operations do not require extensive field training facilities, but simply a private room to demonstrate the detonation mechanisms. Extensive chain of command communications are also obviated by this method, improving security. With training independently organized in this way the process of detecting links is made more difficult. All of which is likely to impact upon the progress of the investigation of London’s July 7 bombings.