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Al-Qaeda clone takes root in the US
By B Raman

In a conversation with the editorial staff of the Washington Post on June 26, President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was reported to have claimed that he had effectively put an end to the terrorist activities of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), both members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), in Pakistan.

He was quoted as having told the newspaper's staff as follows, "The Lashkar-e-Toiba has been banned. The Jaish-e-Mohammad has been banned. There are hundreds of offices out there and I mean hundreds and hundreds of offices around the country, including Kashmir, have been sealed and closed. Their accounts have been frozen. Nobody before this could have touched them. They couldn't even have touched any one of these organizations or their leaders."

The next day, as if to prove him wrong, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) charged seven men in the Washington area and an eighth in Philadelphia with stockpiling weapons and conspiring to wage jihad against India in support of a terrorist group in Kashmir. The FBI's charge sheet against them described them as members of the LET. It also said that three others involved in the case were absconding and were believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

Although the FBI officials said that there was no evidence of a plot against the US, the members of the group had pledged support for pro-Muslim violence overseas, hoarded high-powered rifles and received military training in Pakistan. Nine of the 11 accused are American citizens, and three had served in the US armed forces for some time in the past. The charge sheet said that seven members of the group had traveled to Pakistan in the last several years, and some received military training in small arms, machine guns, grenade launchers and other weaponry at a camp in northeast Pakistan connected to the LET.

The 41-count charge sheet, or indictment as it is called in the US, charged the 11 accused with conspiracy, firearms violations and plotting against a friendly nation - namely, India. US officials connected with the investigation were quoted by the media as saying that there was no evidence that the accused were considering an attack within the US or had ties to al-Qaeda. And officials were careful not to describe the group as a "sleeper cell" - a term used to characterize suspected terrorist supporters in Lackawanna, NY, Seattle and elsewhere arrested last year, some of whom were connected with the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) of Pakistan.

However, the officials charged that the men conspired to help Muslims abroad in violent jihad not only in India, but also in Chechnya, the Philippines and other countries. The men, the charge sheet said, obtained AK-47s and other high-powered weaponry and practiced small-unit military tactics in Virginia.

The indictment charged that the accused pledged their willingness to die as martyrs in support of the Muslim cause and gathered in private homes and at an Islamic center in suburban Washington to hear lectures "on the righteousness of jihad" in Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. They also watched video tapes showing Muslim fighters engaged in jihad. They had also organized a function to celebrate the crashing of the space shuttle Columbia. One of the astronauts killed in the crash was of Indian origin. A message read out on the occasion had described the US "as the greatest enemy of the Muslims".

According to the indictment, one of the accused, Masoud Ahmed Khan, a Maryland resident, had a document titled "The Terrorist's Handbook", with instructions on how to manufacture and use explosives and chemicals as weapons, as well as a photograph of FBI headquarters in Washington. He is since reported to have been ordered to be released on bail by the court keeping in view his past good record in his community. The FBI has appealed against it.

At least two of the 11 accused have been described as of Pakistani origin. One of them, Mohammed Aatique, 30, is a work (H-1) visa holder while Khawja Mahmood Hasan, 27, is a naturalized US citizen born in Pakistan. But at least one more suspect, Masoud Ahmad Khan, 31, also has a Pakistani-sounding name, although his nationality was not disclosed. The other accused are Randall Todd Royer, 30; Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi, a Yemeni national and non-resident alien; Yong Ki Kwon, 27, a naturalized US citizen born in Korea; Seifullah Chapman, 30; Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 35; Donald Thomas Surratt, 30; Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem, 29 and Sabri Benkhala, 28. Chapman, Hasan and Benkhala are believed to be living in Saudi Arabia.

When an embarrassed Musharraf was asked about it in Los Angeles the next day, he was reported to have said, " We need to see who they are, where they were trained and how they were organized."

Earlier, on June 20, before the arrival of Musharraf in the US for his Camp David meeting with President George W Bush, FBI officials disclosed that they had arrested in April Iyman Faris, also known as Mohammad Rauf, originally a resident of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), who had migrated to the US in 1994 and was working as a truck driver in Ohio and charged him with having links with al-Qaeda and Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, said to be bin Laden's operations chief, who is believed to have coordinated the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, in the US. Khalid was arrested in the house of a women's wing leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of Pakistan in Rawalpindi in March by the Pakistani authorities and handed over to the FBI.

According to FBI officials, as quoted in the US media, Faris had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan a number of times between 2000 and 2002, met bin Laden and worked with Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, in organizing and financing jihad causes. After returning to the US from Pakistan in late 2002, officials said, he began examining the Brooklyn Bridge and discussing via coded messages with al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan ways of using blow torches to sever the suspension cables.

"The plotting continued through March, as Faris sent coded messages to operatives in Pakistan. One such message said that the "weather is too hot". FBI officials have been quoted as saying that meant that Faris feared the plot was unlikely to succeed - apparently because of security and the bridge's structure - and should be postponed. He was arrested soon thereafter. According to media reports, the interrogation of Khalid led the FBI to Faris.

It is reported that while there is no evidence so far to connect Faris with the other 11 accused belonging to the LET, the FBI is looking into this possibility. Sources in Pakistan describe Faris, aged 34, as a Punjabi ex-serviceman settled in POK, before he migrated to the US. It is said that he was associated in the past with the Jamaat-ul-Fuqra (JUF), an anti-Jewish and anti-Hindu terrorist organization of Pakistan, which is reported to have a large network in the US, Canada and the Caribbean. It was involved in a number of violent incidents against Jewish and Hindu interests in the US in the early 1990s and its activities were cited in the annual reports of the US State Department titled "Patterns of Global Terrorism".

Last year, Pakistani police alleged that Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, had gone to Pakistan from Mumbai in India to enquire into the possible links of the JUF with the shoe bomber who had unsuccessfully tried to cause an explosion in a US aircraft flying from France to the US. Pearl was trapped by a joint group of terrorists from different Pakistani organizations belonging to bin Laden's IIF, kidnapped and murdered.

The belated discovery by the FBI of secret cells of these Pakistani organizations in the US should not be a matter for surprise. Since 1995, reports had been coming from Pakistan about the planned infiltration of trained cadres of Pakistani organizations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the TJ to the US in order to carry their jihad to US territory. The HUM not only infiltrated its cadres into the US, but also brought some African-American Muslims to Pakistan for training in its camps there.

Among the organizations in the US with which the TJ was believed to be closely associated were the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA). The president of the ISNA used to be one Sheikh Abdullah Idris Ali, an American immigrant of Sudanese origin, who was also a senior official of a mosque in New York.

The annual convention of the ISNA held at Columbus, Ohio, in September 1995, was addressed, among others, by Hamza Yusuf, an American citizen of Greek origin, who, after embracing Islam, had lived for six years in Mauritania to study Islam and then work as a TJ preacher; Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, the famous pop singer, who embraced Islam after coming into contact with the TJ in Pakistan; Saghir of Algeria and Israr Ahmed, the amir of the Tanzeem Islami of Pakistan and a worker of the TJ.

Addressing the convention, Israr Ahmed said, "The process of the revival of Islam in different parts of the world is real. A final showdown between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world, which has been captured by the Jews, would soon take place. The Gulf War was just a rehearsal for the coming conflict." He appealed to the Muslims of the world, including those in the US, to prepare themselves for the coming conflict.

The convention was told that the ISNA had a US$100 million budget for spreading Islamic education in the US through the publication of text books, setting up of weekend Islamic schools and a weekly cable TV programme called "Onsight", which would be available in all the states of the US.

The TJ operates in the US and the Caribbean directly through its own preachers deputed from Pakistan and also recruited from the Pakistani immigrant community in the US, as well as through front organizations such as the Jamaat-ul-Fuqra. In its preachings to the Pakistani immigrants in the US, the TJ has been stressing the importance of cultivating Afro-American Muslims in order to counter the lobbying power of Hindus and Jews.

Writing in Dawn newspaper of January 12,1996, Ghani Eirabie, believed close to the TJ, said, "The ummah [Muslim community] must remember that winning over the black Muslims is not only a religious obligation, but also a selfish necessity. The votes of the black Muslims can give the immigrant Muslims the political clout they need at every stage to protect their vital interests. Likewise, outside Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Pakistan need to mobilize their effort, money and missionary skills to expand and consolidate the black Muslim community in the US, not only for religious reasons, but also as a far-sighted investment in the black Muslims' immense potential as a credible lobby for Muslim causes, such as Palestine, Bosnia or Kashmir - offsetting, at least partially, the venal influence of the powerful India-Israel lobby."

Eirabie wanted the US Muslim community to prepare itself for the day in the second decade of the new millennium when, according to him, the Muslims would emerge as the second largest religious group in the US after the Christians.

The Friday Times, the prestigious weekly of Lahore, reported in its issue for February 1 to 7, 2002, as follows, "Sources say that when Dawatul Irshad [Markaz Dawa al-Irshad, since re-named as Jamaat ud-Dawa], parent organization of the now banned Lashkar Tayyaba [Lashkar-e-Toiba], shifted its activities to Azad Kashmir [POK], it took with it many non-Pakistanis suspected of links to al-Qaeda. All these organizations were loosely affiliated and their activists moved across organizations and cells with a great degree of ease, an intelligence source said."

The Friday Times added, "Just before the Musharraf government took action against the organization, there were quite a few foreigners residing at Dawa's headquarters in Muridke. Most of these people had infiltrated into Pakistan in the initial stages of the war, says an insider. Some of these people shifted along with other Lashkar cadres to Azad Kashmir after Hafiz Mohammed Saeed [its amir] resigned under pressure from the government. After his resignation, he also constituted another jihadi group called Jamaat ud-Dawa, while the supreme council nominated Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, another senior member of the Dawatul Irshad, as its new amir. Insiders say some of these foreigners are also said to be linked to Hezbul Tehreer and work under the supervision of Abdul Qadeem Zaloom, a Saudi-based person with links to the al-Qaeda."

In a paper on the LET and al-Qaeda, I had mentioned as follows, "In the past, the LET had kept its activities confined to its jihad in India and its assistance to the Jemmah Islamiyah and other pro-bin Laden elements in Indonesia. It did not utter any threats against the US or target American nationals or interests. As a result, American intelligence officials based in Pakistan did not pay the same attention to monitoring its activities as they did to the activities of al-Qaeda and other Pakistani organizations, despite the fact that Abu Zubaidah, then No 3 in al-Qaeda, was arrested in March last year from the house of a LET leader at Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab.

"It has thus managed to retain its infrastructure and source of funding intact. Though it has changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa to escape the consequences of the order banning it issued by General Pervez Musharraf on January 15, 2002, it continues to be referred to by many Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs as the LET. Since the beginning of this year [2003], it has been trying to perform the role previously played by al-Qaeda as the coordinator of pro-bin Laden networks all over the world, as the supplier of funds to the networks in different countries and particularly in Southeast Asia and of suicide volunteers, arms and ammunition and explosives to the surviving al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan etc.

"It has reportedly reorganized its structure on the pattern of al-Qaeda and has vastly expanded its activities to the business field in order to augment its sources of income. The Friday Times [January 17-23], the prestigious weekly of Lahore, reported as follows: 'The Jamaat-ud-Dawa [JD], formerly known as Lashkar-e-Toiba, is snapping up properties across Pakistan. Sources told the weekly that recent real estate purchases by the JD amount to about Rs 300 million [US$5/1]. It has reportedly bought four plots of land in Hyderabad division [of Sindh] and six others in various Sindh districts. The total price tag is about Rs 200 million. Recent purchases in Lahore have cost it Rs 100 million. During the recent Eid festival in Pakistan, it was reported to have received charity contributions worth Rs 710 million, mostly in the form of the hides of the sacrificed animals. It has also been in receipt of large funds from overseas Pakistanis', the Friday Times said."

As stated in my above-mentioned article, al-Qaeda has been trying to use the organizational infrastructure of the LET in Pakistan, its network in the Islamic world and its large funds for stepping up acts of terrorism against the US and Israel. The LET's close access to senior officers of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment could be exploited by al-Qaeda to prevent any action against its surviving cadres in Pakistan. Many members of Pakistan's scientific community in the nuclear and missile fields regularly attend the conventions of the LET. By making use of this, al-Qaeda should be able to seek the assistance of LET sympathizers in the scientific community for acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Waleed bin Atash, the al-Qaeda suspect in the case relating to the attack on the the US ship USS Cole at Aden in October, 2000, who was arrested by the Pakistani authorities on April 29 last and handed over to the FBI, is reported to have told the Pakistani authorities during the interrogation 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 were 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 from the LET.

In another article of May 15 titled "Triangle of terrorism" I had stated as follows, "The international community is yet to take serious notice of the emergence of the LET as a coordinator of the activities of the various constituents of the IIF to make up for the present organizational disabilities of al-Qaeda. Next to Pakistan, where the headquarters of the LET are located [in Muridke, near Lahore], the second most important infrastructure of the LET is in Saudi Arabia. Despite being a Wahhabi organization, it has been critical of the Saudi ruling regime and shares bin Laden's anathema for the Saudi ruling family. In the past, it was not very articulate in its criticism of the US, but has in recent months been increasingly virulent in its attacks on the US. It has been collecting funds in Pakistan for its 'martyrs' who, it claims, died in the jihad against the Americans in Iraq.

"While the LET's headquarters in Pakistan coordinate its activities in north India, including J&K, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Russia (Chechnya and Dagestan), its headquarters in Saudi Arabia coordinate its activities in Mumbai and south India, the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka and in the countries of Southeast Asia. Since 2001, there have been a number of arrests of LET cadres in Mumbai and south India, who reportedly claimed to have been trained, funded and directed by the LET setup in Saudi Arabia and not directly by the LET headquarters in Pakistan. Thus, al-Qaeda as well as the LET have a separate organizational presence in Saudi Arabia, which has evaded detection and neutralization by the Saudi authorities."

In my latest article of June 18 titled "India and the desert scorpions", I had stated as follows, "A stream of jihadi volunteers from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries have started moving into Iraq to join what is promised as the mother of all jihads against the US. Before the occupation, there was no evidence of any links between the Saddam Hussein regime and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and International Islamic Front (IIF), despite apparently fabricated US evidence to the contrary. After the occupation, there are increasing reports of attempts to bring the dregs of al-Qaeda and the IIF from Afghanistan and Pakistan and of Saddam Hussein's army and Ba'ath Party together for what is described as a new jihad, the like of which the world has not seen before. Initial meetings in this regard have already been held in al-Qaeda and IIF hideouts in Pakistan. There are claims, as yet unsubstantiated, of Saddam being alive and of he and bin Laden soon issuing a joint fatwa against the US and the UK."

The LET has been collecting funds and recruiting and training volunteers in different parts of Pakistan for assisting the Iraqi fedayeen (suicide squads) in their jihad against the US troops in Iraq. Some former members of the Ba'ath Party are already reported to have returned to Iraq after undergoing a crash training course in the LET's camps in Pakistan.

Unless the US itself acts to neutralize the LET leadership, cadres, training camps and bases in Pakistan, instead of depending on Musharraf to do this, which he never will, its troops will continue to die in Iraq and the war against international terrorism will not be won. The LET has become as great a threat to regional and international peace and security as al-Qaeda.

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.
 
Jul 3, 2003


The long arm of resistance
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Triangle of terrorism
(May 15, '03)

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