South Asia

Bomb jitters in Pakistan, too
By B Raman

Between 4 and 5 in the morning of May 15, unidentified elements caused minor explosions at 19 retail outlets of Shell and two of Caltex in different parts of Pakistani's port city of Karachi. There were no serious casualties or property damage. According to police, the low intensity bombs were locally assembled with 15-minute timers. Motorcyclists placed the explosives in dustbins placed outside the outlets.

A police spokesman has been quoted as telling the media, "Nothing could be ruled out: an act of sabotage, a rift between oil transporters and the petroleum company, an act of terrorism by jihadi or al-Qaeda elements, or some other possibility. We are investigating from all angles, but so far we have not reached a conclusion."

On May 17, newspaper offices in Karachi reportedly received copies of a statement purported to have been issued by an organization called the "Muslim United Army" (MUA) claiming responsibility for the explosions and warning of future attacks on US interests in Pakistan. It said that the MUA had been formed by one Shaikh Ahmed, who was described as its amir, to continue the mission of Asif Ramzi. On October 15 of last year some police officers and other government officials of Karachi received by post parcels which were found to contain explosive devices. The Lashkar-e- Jhangvi (LEJ), a Sunni extremist organization, which is a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), claimed responsibility for the parcel bombs in an email sent to newspaper offices. That message, which was signed by Asif Ramzi of the LEJ, also claimed that all the jihadi organizations of Pakistan had joined hands to form the MUA. According to the Karachi police, Ramzi was subsequently killed in an accidental explosion in a house on December 19 last year.

Though there appears to be no evidence so far to show that the explosions at the petrol outlets were the work of al-Qaeda or any of the Pakistani members of the IIF, the Pakistani authorities have further stepped up security measures all over the country fearing fresh strikes by al-Qaeda or the IIF against US nationals or interests. The security precautions had already been strengthened outside US establishments and particularly outside the US consulate in Karachi after the arrests on April 29 of three hardcore members of al-Qaeda in a Karachi hideout.

The arrested terrorists were Waleed Muhammad bin Attash alias Tawfiq bin Attash alias Khalid al-Attash, described as a Yemeni suspect in the attack on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October, 2000, Ali Abd al-Aziz also known as Ammar al-Baluchi - said to be a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, supposedly the operations chief of Osama bin Laden who was arrested at Rawalpindi on March 2 and handed over to US officials - and Abu Ammar. Aziz and Ammar are said to be Yemeni-Balochis, born of mixed Yemeni and Balochi parentage.

After initial interrogation by the Pakistani authorities, they were handed over to the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which flew them out of the country. A substantial quantity of explosives was recovered during the arrests from their hideout. The police also arrested three or more Pakistanis who were assisting them. It was said that before coming to Karachi, they had participated in jihad in Afghanistan and in Jammu & Kashmir in India.

During the initial interrogation by Pakistani officials, Waleed is reported to have told them that last year about 75 Arab operatives of al-Qaeda had fled from Afghanistan and the bordering areas of Pakistan and taken shelter at different places in Karachi. According to him, of these, about 50 are still in hiding in Karachi. However, he denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of bin Laden. He is also reported to have stated that he and his associates were recruiting Pakistani volunteers for undertaking suicide missions against American targets and that they had already recruited 12 persons from the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), a member of the IIF.

The explosions of May 12 in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, which has a strong presence of al-Qaeda and the LET, and of May 16 at Casablanca in Morocco in which al-Qaeda and the local Salafi Jihadi movement are suspected have added to the concerns of the Pakistani authorities. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Morocco were among those described as apostate by bin Laden in his message of February 11. He called for their "liberation" by waging a jihad against them. He has also called for the "liberation" of Jordan, Nigeria and Yemen.

Ahmed Raffiki, the supreme amir of the Salafi Jihadi movement of Morocco, has had a long history of contact with Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, the amir of the LET. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, he visited Pakistan and Afghanistan and attended the annual conventions of the LET and the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ).

The Pakistani authorities are reportedly worried that al-Qaeda or the Pakistani constituents of the IIF may launch a major terrorist strike against US and other Western targets before President General Pervez Musharraf's forthcoming visit to the US in the second half of June in order to create an embarrassment for him. It may be recalled that they kidnapped and murdered Daniel Pearl, a journalist of the Wall Street Journal, before Musharraf's visit to the US at the invitation of President George W Bush in February last year.

In addition to strengthening security precautions, Pakistani officials they have also reportedly established contacts with the leaders of the Pakistani constituents of the IIF to request them not to attack any Western targets. In this connection, Major General Ehtesham Zamir, the head of the political intelligence division of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is believed to have met Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, Maulana Azam Tariq and Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Shamzai, the head of the Binori madrassa (religious school) of Karachi, is reputed to be the mentor of Mulla Omar, the amir of the Taliban, and bin Laden. Before the US-led war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda started on October 7, 2001, Musharraf had sent a team of mullas led by Shamzai to Kandahar in Afghanistan to persuade Mulla Omar to hand over bin Laden to the FBI. He refused. Lieutenant-General Mahmood Ahmed, the then chief of the ISI, accompanied the mullas.

Maulana Azam Tariq is the head of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (it has since changed its name), which is the political wing of the LEJ. In October last, Musharraf ordered the withdrawal of the cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act against him to enable him to contest successfully the elections to the National Assembly.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is the amir of the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Islam Pakistan. He is the mentor of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which is also a member of the IIF, and is a close personal friend of bin Laden and Mulla Omar.

B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com. He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.
 
May 21, 2003



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(May 20, '03)

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