RE-ARREST OF FORMER HUJI AMIR
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO.373
A day after the assassination of Lt.Gen.Mushtaq Baig, the Surgeon-General of the Pakistan Army, by an un identified suicide bomber atRawalpindi on February 25,2008, the Lahore Police have announced the arrest of Qari Saifullah Akhtar, former Amir of theHarkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami (HUJI) and his three sons----Muhammad Asif Ali alias Hassan, Abdul Rehman alias Mani and Mureed Ahmad alias AbuDajana--- from a mosque near Lahore. They also announced the arrest of Fahad Munir alias Mithtoo, a nephew of the late Riaz Basra, of theanti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ).
2.In 2002, the Police had picked up Riaz Basra for interrogation during the investigation into the kidnapping and subsequent murder ofDaniel Pearl, the US journalist, who was working for the "Wall Street Journal". The Police never officially admitted his arrest. They showedhim as killed in an encounter with the police when he resisted arrest.
3.Hamid Nawaz, the Pakistani Interior Minister, has been quoted as telling the media that Qari Saifullah would be questioned by the police inconnection with the investigation into the unsuccessful suicide attack on Ms.Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister, at Karachi onOctober 18,2007.
4. In the revised edition of her memoir titled "Recollections", published after her assassination on December 27,2007, she had written asfollows: "“ I was informed of a meeting that had taken place in Lahore where the bomb blasts (of October 18,2007) were planned. Accordingto this report, three men belonging to a rival political faction were hired for half a million dollars. They were, according to my sources,named Ejaz, Sajjad and another whose name I forgot. One of them died accidentally because he couldn’t get away fast enough before thedetonation. Presumably this was the one holding the baby. However, a bomb maker was needed for the bombs. Enter Qari Saifullah Akhtar, awanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government. He had been extradited by the United Arab Emirates and waslanguishing in Karachi central jail. According to my second source, the officials in Lahore had turned to Akhtar for help. His liaison withelements in the government, according to this source, was a radical who was asked to make the bombs and himself asked for a fatwamaking it legitimate to oblige. He got one(p.221)”.
5. Since 1995, the name of Qari Saifullah Akhtar had figured repeatedly in connectiion with various investigations---- a plot to overthrowBenazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister, in 1995, the kidnapping and murder of Pearl in 2002, the suicide attack on French submarine experts inKarachi in 2002, the two attempts to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December,2003, and the unsuccessful attackon Benazir at Karachi on October 18,2007.
6. In 1995, the Pakistani Military Intelligence arrested Maj-Gen-Zahir-ul-Islam Abbasi, former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence set-up inthe Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi, and some other officers on a charge of plotting to kill Benazir and Gen.Abdul Waheed Kakkar,the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), and stage a coup. They also arrested Qari Saifullah Akhtar as an accomplice. While the arrestedarmy officers were court-martialled and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, Saifullah was not prosecuted. He was released aftersome months in detention. Abbasi was released from jail after Musharraf seized power in October 1999. The HUJI joined Osama bin Laden'sInternational Islamic Front (IIF) after it was formed in 1998.
7.After the suicide bomb attack in Karachi on May 8, 2002,which killed 11 French experts working in a submarine project, Khaled Ahmed,the well-known Pakistani analyst, wrote an article titled "The Biggest Militia We Know Nothing About" in the "Friday Times" of Lahore. Inthis article, he stated as follows: "ARY DIGITAL TV’s host Dr Masood, while discussing the May 8 killing of 11 French nationals in Karachi,named one Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami as one of the suspected terrorists involved in the bombing. When the Americans bombed the Talibanand Mulla Umar fled from his stronghold in Kandahar, a Pakistani personality also fled with him. This was Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader ofHarkat al-Jahad al-Islami, Pakistan’s biggest jihadi militia headquartered in Kandahar. No one knew the name of the outfit and its leader. A large number of its fighters made their way into Central Asia and Chechnya to escape capture at the hands of the Americans, therest stole back into Pakistan to establish themselves in Waziristan and Buner. Their military training camp (maskar) in Kotli in Azad Kashmirswelled with new fighters and now the outfit is scouting some areas in the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province )to create a supplementarymaskar for jihad in Kashmir. Its ‘handlers’ (in the Inter-Services Intelligence) have clubbed it together with Harkatul Mujahideen to create Jamiatul Mujahideen in order to cut down the large number of outfits gathered together in Azad Kashmir. It was active in Held Kashmirunder the name of Harkatul Jahad Brigade 111.
8."The leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, Qari Saifullah Akhtar was an adviser to Mulla Umar in the Taliban government. His fighters werecalled ‘Punjabi’ Taliban and were offered employment, something that other outfits could not get out of Mulla Umar. The outfit hadmembership among the Taliban too. Three Taliban ministers and 22 judges belonged to the Harkat. In difficult times, the Harkat fightersstood together with Mulla Umar. Approximately 300 of them were killed fighting the Northern Alliance, after which Mulla Umar was pleased to give Harkat the permission to build six more maskars in Kandahar, Kabul and Khost, where the Taliban army and police also receivedmilitary training. From its base in Afghanistan, Harkat launched its campaigns inside Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya. But thedistance of Qari Saifullah Akhtar from the organisation’s Pakistani base did not lead to any rifts. In fact, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami emergedfrom the defeat of the Taliban largely intact. In Pakistan Qari Akhtar has asked the ‘returnees’ to lie low for the time being, while hisPakistani fighters already engaged are busy in jihad as before.
9."The Harkat is the only militia which boasts international linkages. It calls itself ‘the second line of defence of all Muslim states’ and isactive in Arakan in Burma, and Bangladesh, with well organised seminaries in Karachi, and Chechnya, Sinkiang, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.The latest trend is to recall Pakistani fighters stationed abroad and encourage the local fighters to take over the operations. Its fund-raisingis largely from Pakistan, but an additional source is its activity of selling weapons to other militias. Its acceptance among the Taliban wasowed to its early allegiance to a leader of the Afghan war, Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi and his Harkat Inqilab Islami whose fighters became apart of the Taliban forces in large numbers. Nabi Muhammadi was ignored by the ISI in 1980 in favour of Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e-Islami.His outfit suffered in influence inside Afghanistan because he was not supplied with weapons in the same quantity as some of the otherseven militias.
10."According to the journal Al-Irshad of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, published from Islamabad, a Deobandi group led by Maulana IrshadAhmad was established in 1979. Looking for the right Afghan outfit in exile to join in Peshawar, Maulana Irshad Ahmad adjudged Maulvi NabiMuhammadi as the true Deobandi and decided to join him in 1980. Harkat Inqilab Islami was set up by Maulana Nasrullah Mansoor Shaheedand was taken over by Nabi Muhammadi after his martyrdom. Eclipsed in Pakistan, Maulana Irshad Ahmad fought in Afghanistan against theSoviets till he was killed in battle in Shirana in 1985. His place was taken by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, which was not liked by some of the Harkat leaders, including Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khaleel who then set up his own Harkatul Mujahideen.
11."According to some sources, Harkatul Mujahideen was a new name given to Harkatul Ansar after it was declared terrorist by the UnitedStates. Other sources claim that it was Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami that had earlier merged with Harkatul Ansar. But relations with FazlurRehman Khaleel remained good, but when Maulana Masood Azhar separated from Harkatul Mujahideen and set up his ownJaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami opposed Jaish in its journal Sada-e-Mujahid (May 2000) and hinted that ‘you-know-who’ hadshowered Jaish with funds. Jaish was supported by Mufti Shamzai of Banuri (Binori) Mosque of Karachi and was given a brand new maskarin Balakot by the ISI.
12."The sub-militia (of the HUJI) fighting in Kashmir is semi-autonomous and is led by chief commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. Itstraining camp is 20 km from Kotli in Azad Kashmir, with a capacity for training 800 warriors, and is run by one Haji Khan. Harkat al-Jahadal-Islami went into Kashmir in 1991 but was at first opposed by the Wahhabi elements there because of its refusal to criticise the grandDeobandi congregation of Tableeghi Jamaat and its quietist posture. But as days passed, its warriors were recognised as ‘Afghanis’. Itfinally had more martyrs in the jihad of Kashmir than any other militia. Its resolve and organisation were recognised when foreigners wereseen fighting side by side with its Punjabi warriors.
13."To date, 650 Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami mujahideen have been killed in battle against the Indian army: 190 belonging to both sides ofKashmir, nearly 200 belonging to Punjab, 49 to Sindh, 29 to Balochistan, 70 to Afghanistan, 5 to Turkey, and 49 collectively to Uzbekistan,Bangladesh and the Arab world.
14."Because of its allegiance to the spiritual legacy of Deobandism, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami did not attack the Tableeghi Jamaat, whichstood it in good stead because it became the only militia whose literature was allowed to be distributed during the congregations of theTableeghi Jamaat, and those in the Pakistani establishment attending the congregation were greatly impressed by the militia’sorganizational excellence. It contained more graduates of the seminaries than any other militia, thus emphasising its religious character asenvisaged by its founder and by Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi. It kept away from the sectarian conflict unlike Jaish-e-Muhammad but its menwere at times put off by the populist Kashmiri Islam and reacted violently to local practices.
15."The leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami in Uzbekistan is Sheikh Muhammad Tahir al-Farooq. So far 27 of its fighters have been killed inbattle against the Uzbek president Islam Karimov, as explained in the Islamabad-based journal Al-Irshad. Starting in 1990, the war againstUzbekistan was bloody and was supported by the Taliban, till in 2001, the commander had to ask the Pakistanis in Uzbekistan to return tobase.
16."In Chechnya, the war against the Russians was carried on under the leadership of commander Hidayatullah. Pakistan’s embassy inMoscow once denied that there were any Pakistanis involved in the Chechnyan war, but journal Al-Irshad (March 2000) declared fromIslamabad that the militia was deeply involved in the training of guerrillas in Chechnya for which purpose commander Hidayatullah wasstationed in the region. It estimated that ‘dozens’ of Pakistani fighters had been martyred fighting against Russian infidels.
17."When the Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami men were seen first in Tajikistan, they were mistaken by some observers as being fighters fromSipah Sahaba, but in fact they were under the command of commander Khalid Irshad Tiwana, helping Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashevresist the Uzbek ruling class in the Ferghana Valley. The anti-Uzbek warlords were being sheltered by Mulla Umar in Afghanistan.
18."Maulana Abdul Quddus heads the Burmese warriors located in Karachi and fighting mostly in Bangladesh on the Arakanese border. Korangi is the base of the Arakanese Muslims who fled Burma to fight the jihad from Pakistan. A large number of Burmese are located insideKorangi and the area is sometimes called mini-Arakan. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has opened 30 seminaries for them inside Korangi, therebeing 18 more in the rest of Karachi. Maulana Abdul Quddus, a Burmese Muslim, while talking to weekly Zindagi (25-31 January 1998), revealed that he had run away from Burma via India and took religious training in the Harkat seminaries in Karachi and on its invitation wentto Afghanistan, took military training there and fought the jihad from 1982 to 1988. In Korangi, the biggest seminary is Madrasa Khalid binWalid where 500 Burmese are under training. They were trained in Afghanistan and later made to fight against the Northern Alliance andagainst the Indian army in Kashmir. The Burmese prefer to stay in Pakistan, and very few have returned to Burma or to Bangladesh. Thereare reports of their participation in the religious underworld in Karachi.
19."Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has branch offices in 40 districts and tehsils in Pakistan, including Sargodha, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan,Khanpur, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Mianwali, Bannu, Kohat, Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan, Swabi and Peshawar. It also has an office in Islamabad.Funds are collected from these grassroots offices as well as from sources abroad. The militia has accounts in two branches of Allied Bankin Islamabad, which have not been frozen because the organisation is not under a ban. The authorities have begun the process ofreorganisation of jihad by changing names and asking the various outfits to merge. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has been asked to merge withHarkatul Mujahideen of Fazlur Rehman Khaleel who had close links with Osama bin Laden. The new name given to this merger is Jamiatul Mujahideen. Jamaat Islami’s Hizbul Mujahideen has been made to absorb all the refugee Kashmiri organisations. Jaish and Lashkar-e-Taybahave been clubbed together as Al-Jihad. All the Barelvi organisations, so far located only in Azad Kashmir, have been put together asAl-Barq. Al-Badr and Hizbe Islami have been renamed as Al-Umar Mujahideen, " the article concluded.
20. Saifullah's name had figured along with that of Amjad Hussain Farooqi in connection with the investigation into the two attempts to killMusharraf at Rawalpindi in December,2003. He managed to run away to the United Arab Emirates before he could be arrested.The Pakistanimedia reported that Saifullah was picked up by the Dubai authorities on August 6, 2004, and handed over to the Pakistani authorities, whohad him flown to Pakistan the next day.
21.The "Daily Times" of Lahore wrote in an editorial [August 09, 2004] after the arrest of Saifullah as follows: “ Qari Saifullah Akhtar — bornin 1958 in South Waziristan — is a graduate of the Banuri Masjid in Karachi. He was a crucial figure in Mufti Shamzai’s efforts to get Osamabin Laden and Mullah Umar together as partners-in-jihad. Qari Saifullah’s repatriation (from the UAE) signals the closing of the Saudi channelof escape for the Deobandi jihadis.But Qari Saifullah was not the only one hiding in that region. There were other less known personalitieswith contacts who could go at will to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to bide their time when the political heat increased in Karachi and their‘handlers’ told them to take a sabbatical. For Qari Saifullah Akhtar the sabbatical is now over. The timing of Qari Saifullah’s repatriation issignificant. It happened after the arrest of Al Qaeda operative Muhammad Khalfan Ghailani from Gujrat along with Al Qaeda’s computergenius Muhammad Naeem Nur Khan. It is said that the Pakistani agencies recruited Khan as a double agent and were thus able tocommunicate with Al Qaeda through him. Because of a premature disclosure of Khan as a double agent in the United States, the slowlytightening noose around Al Qaeda in the UK had to be quickly sprung. The home-coming of Qari Saifullah Akhtar could well be connectedwith the revelations made in Gujrat.”
22.On August 20, 2004, the Pakistani authorities had announced cash rewards amounting to Rs.20 million each (US $ 344800) to anyonewho would give information leading to the capture of Amjad Hussain Farooqi, a Pakistani national, and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a Libyan national,said to be belonging to Al Qaeda.Amjad Hussain Farooqi was accused of acting at the instance of the Libyan in his attempts to killMusharraf.
23. On September 26,2004,the Pakistani security agencies claimed to have killed Amjad Hussain Farooqi alias Mansur Hasnain alias Imtiaz Siddiqui alias Hyder, alias Doctor who, according to them, was the mastermind behind the two abortive attempts to kill Musharraf in Rawalpindi. According to them, he was killed during an encounter with the para-military forces who had surrounded a rentedhouse in Nawabshah in Sindh, where he along with some others had been living for two months.
24.Talking to the media at The Hague on September 27,2004, Musharraf was reported to have stated as follows:" We eliminated one of thevery major sources of terrorist attacks. He was not only involved in attacks on me, but also in attacks elsewhere in the country. So a verybig terrorist has been eliminated."
25.Reliable accounts from Nawabshah indicated that if the Pakistani authorities had wanted, they could have caught him alive andquestioned him about the role of Pakistani civilian and military officials in the various post-9/11 terrorist incidents, including the kidnappingand murder of Daniel Pearl, the attempts to kill Musharraf himself and Shaukat Aziz, the then Finance Minister, who subsequently becamethe Prime Minister, and the attacks directed against American and French targets. But, they did not allegedly want to capture him alive.
26.In a report under the heading "Real conspirators in Musharraf case may never be exposed", Kamran Khan, the Pakistani investigativejournalist, stated as follows in the "News" of September 28, 2004: "Senior lawyers say that the killing of Amjad Farooqi, the main accused inPresident Musharraf and Daniel Pearl cases, may also influence the final outcome of the two most important cases. A nationwide militaryinvestigation launched after two assassination attempts against President Pervez Musharraf last year had unveiled that some civilian and low level military individuals were the field operatives while Amjad Farooqi played an anchor in the abortive bids on Gen Musharraf’s life. Because of the most sensitive nature of the probe the principal investigative work was carried out under the supervision of the CommanderCorps 10 (My comment: Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the present Army chief), who received inputs from all federal and provincial lawenforcement agencies in the most extensive investigation of a crime case in Pakistan. "It was very important to catch Amjad Farooqi alive,"said a senior law-enforcement official. "Farooqi was the key link between the foot soldiers and those who ordered the murder."
27."Amjad Farooqi is now dead with the most important secret and we still don’t know for sure the real identity of the Pakistani or al-Qaedaor any other foreign elements who had launched Farooqi into action to remove General Musharraf from the scene," said a second seniorlaw-enforcement official. Some circumstantial evidence collected during the investigation of President Musharraf case had cited some connection between Abu Feraj, an al-Qaeda operative of Libyan origin, and Amjad Farooqi, hence the suspicion that al-Qaeda could bebehind the murder attempts through Amjad Farooqi.The military investigators had found solid evidence to connect Amjad Farooqi with thesuicide bombers involved in December 25 attacks on President Musharraf. Farooqi’s connections were also established with the group oflow level Pakistan Air Force technicians who had planted bombs under Lai Bridge for the December 11 bid on the President’s life. Themilitary investigators were also baffled how come the Air Intelligence, the intelligence wing of the PAF, detected no signs that about twodozen PAF men posted at the Chaklala airbase had been attending meetings with religious extremists and in the first week of Decemberwere making active preparations at the heart of the PAF base to bomb the presidential motorcade.
28.“Pakistani officials, worried that Farooqi’s killing would prevent them from getting the full knowledge about Farooqi’s connections and hisactions, said that if captured alive Farooqi could have provided crucial information on the plot to kidnap and murder the Wall Street Journalreporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.Pakistani officials believed that, like in the murder attempts against the President, Farooqi was an anchor inthe Pearl case. "The gruesome murder of Pearl and its video filming for the world was the work of Amjad Farooqi- Khalid Sheikh Muhammadcombine," said a senior intelligence official who did not want to be identified,” the report concluded.
29. Since September,2004, the relatives of Qari Saifullah had been filing habeas corpus petitions in different courts to trace him. The Policerepeatedly denied that he was in their custody. They denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. Then suddenly, on May 26,2007, the InteriorMinistry informed the Supreme Court that 98 missing persons had been traced and sent to their relatives. They did not say where they weretraced and how. One of the persons they claimed to have traced and sent back to his relatives was Qari Saifullah.. From Benazir's account,it would appear that he was in the Karachi jail from August 2004 to May,2007, but the Police repeatedly told the courts that they did notknow his whereabouts. It is not known whether he was questioned about the murder of Pearl and the attempts to assassinate Musharrafand, if so, what was the result of the interrogation.
30. Now, nine months later, the Police have arrested him again for questioning in connection with Benazir's allegation regarding hisinvolvement in the October 18,2007, attempt to kill her at Karachi. (27-2-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )