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    South Asia
     Jan 31, 2008
Shootout echoes across Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Tuesday afternoon's fierce gun battle in this port city is stark evidence that al-Qaeda-linked sleeper cells have been activated against the Pakistani state.

At least three members of Jundullah (Army of God) were killed in the clash with police and paramilitary forces. Two policemen also died. One of the dead militants was the suspected leader of the cell, Qasim Toori, who was wanted in connection with previous deadly attacks in Pakistan.

Jundullah was founded in the South Waziristan tribal area in 2004 and is now led by Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud and Tahir

Yuldashev, head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In recent weeks, Jundullah has become estranged from the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar, who insists that militant activities should be confined to Afghanistan, and not directed against Pakistan.

A senior police officer told Asia Times Online soon after the militants' hideout in a residential area had been seized, "I was stunned watching so much weaponry [being used], ranging from RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] to light machine guns. It appeared they were preparing for a war."

Another top official of a major intelligence agency told Asia Times Online the discovery of the Jundullah cell confirmed Pakistan's suspicions that South Waziristan-linked groups had regrouped in all major cities.

Soon after its inception, Jundullah carried out a foiled attack on a military chief in Karachi in which several soldiers were killed. Within hours, several members involved in the attack were arrested and the network was largely shattered, although Qasim Toori remained at large.

Tuesday's incident underlines fears that the militant violence that has spread from the tribal areas to cities in Northwest Frontier Province is now targeting bigger cities across the country. Most of the violence is blamed on Mehsud, who is now isolated with his allies Yuldashev, Abdul Khaliq Haqqani and assorted Pakistani militants.

The Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan have already agreed on a ceasefire with Pakistan, and are expected to make an announcement to this effect within a few days.

In an interview with this correspondent on satellite phone from an unknown location, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that when the Pakistani Taliban began fighting against the United States and other allied forces who had occupied Afghanistan, they were united. But subsequently, he said, Baitullah and other Pakistani militants had started fighting the Pakistani military and "we have cut all ties with them and openly disown them".

He said the Taliban have a clear-cut policy of not fighting with any other Muslim country, especially with Pakistan, in any manner, and that they are strictly against fighting the Pakistani military.

"We have been fighting for Afghanistan's independence against foreign aggression since 2001 [when the Taliban were ousted] and the Afghan nation has a lot of hopes resting on us. That's why they have stood with us against the foreign military might. They are not supporting us to fight with Pakistan, but to fight against the US-led NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] forces and liberate Afghanistan," Zabihullah Mujahid said. He said the Taliban had already issued a statement disowning Baitullah on their website (http://www.alemarah.i67.org).

Shootout in the city
A police official present at Tuesday's shootout described the circumstances leading up to it.

The police were tipped off about the presence of a group in the eastern part of the city called Landhi which had been involved in a large bank robbery. The police launched a raid against what they thought was a bunch of criminals, and to their horror were fired on by light machine guns.

Clearly, these were no ordinary robbers, as their weapons and fighting skills quickly demonstrated. After three hours, the paramilitary Rangers were called in, but by then two policemen had been killed.

While the police regrouped, several people in the besieged house jumped from the second floor onto the sandy ground below, where cars were waiting for them and they escaped.

But Qasim Toori was in one of the cars when a hand grenade accidentally exploded and the police were able to capture him. However, soon after he died of injuries sustained in the grenade blast.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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