“According to our investigations, close to a 100 people have left Pakistan for Syria and Iraq to join the most dreaded international militant organisation — Islamic State (IS) or Daesh.” This statement came from Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah on January 4, while talking to the media in the province’s densely-populated city of Faisalabad.
This is the first official account about Pakistan providing human fuel to the hotbed of the Middle Eastern battleground. Otherwise, the authorities appear to be in a state of denial regarding the footprints of this international terror outfit in the country.
Last month, on December 28, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Punjab busted a cell of IS group operating from Sialkot. According to the CTD’s press release, nine suspects have been arrested and a large cache of weapons, explosives and laptops, as well as a large number of compact discs containing propaganda material of the terror outfit have been recovered. It states “they wanted to overthrow democracy and introduce khilafat in Pakistan through armed struggle”. It also adds that the suspects originally belonged to Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and were involved in recruitment and fund collection for the IS. Wall chalking in support of the IS in the area was also their responsibility.
Talking to TNS, the spokesman for CTD Punjab said, “They had sworn allegiance to Abu Bakar al Baghdadi and joined Daesh in Jamia Masjid Muhammadi village Ranjhai at Daska tehsil of Sialkot district in June 2015. They were in contact over Skype with a Pakistani national, Abu Muavia Salfi, in charge of Pakistani militants in Syria. The interrogations with the suspects further revealed that Waqas aka Rizwan, resident of Shahabpura, Sialkot has reportedly been killed in the Syrian fighting.
“There have been at least six youngsters missing since long in Sialkot. And we now have credible intelligence that those have been executed in Syria,” he said.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is busy tracking down human smugglers around the country and many have been rounded up. One source said that measures are being taken to thwart people from going to Syria and Iraq for fighting alongside the IS. “The militants opt for not very regular routes to reach the war zones of Syria and Iraq and human smugglers provide this service at a hefty price,” he said.
Apart from Sialkot, there have been news reports about law enforcement agencies arresting people affiliated with the IS from Lahore and elsewhere.
“We bring in the mujahideen. This is good news for Islamic State’s expansion to the Khorasan region. Indeed, the mujahideens amongst the soldiers of the Khalifah have fulfilled the conditions and met the requirements for the declaration of Wilayat Khorasan. They have announced their Bayah to [Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi] and he accepted it and appointed Shaikh Hafiz Saeed Khan as the Wali of Wilayat Khorasan”, stated the central spokesman of IS, Abu Mohammad Al Adnani. Adnani’s statement was published in February 2015 in IS’s English language magazine Dabiq. It was the same edition of the online magazine in which the interview of Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud was released.
The statement was a response from the IS central leadership to a development that took place in October 2014. Six senior commanders of banned Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) including its former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid pledged allegiance to the IS ameer Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi. The episode was filmed and released to the media as well but the authorities still seem reluctant to officially acknowledge the very existence of Islamic State branch of Khorasan (Khorasan is a historical term used to define the region comprising Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan).
In June 2014, a video was released by the ‘Sympathisers of Islamic State Within Pakistan’. They were carrying two flags, one of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the other of the Sympathisers of Islamic State Within Pakistan. The seven-minute and twenty-nine seconds long video in Arabic, the language of the self-declared IS caliphate, was first aired in Pakistan by Geo TV.
Around the same time, Al-Ansar Media, the propaganda wing of Jamaat-ul-Ansar-ul-Islam, released a 30-minute-long video of a militant training camp in Syria. Ansar-ul-Islam is a militant outfit, initially operating from Syria and now in Iraq as well. The camp was named after the slain Pakistani prayer leader of famous Lal Masjid, Abdur Rasheed Ghazi. Dozens of highly-trained militants, armed with rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), anti-aircraft guns, light-machine guns (LMGs) and sub-machine guns (SMGs), demonstrated their expertise in the video.
In December 2014, a video was posted on the social media attributed to the female students of Jamia Hafsa and member of Lal Masjid Shuhada Foundation. In the video, the females invited the terrorist organisation Islamic State [Daesh] to avenge Operation Silence that was carried out against the Lal Masjid in 2007.
In August 2015, The Long War Journal, referring to a Twitter account, published a story that the IS of Khorasan has allegedly established a training camp in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The name of the training camp was attributed to TTP Ameer Hakeemullah Mehsud who was killed in a drone strike in November 2013. The location of the training camp was not independently verified.
The footprints of the IS, better known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, in Pakistan first became visible in the form of graffiti in its support in various parts of the country. People in Karachi also witnessed similar wallchalking in different areas of the metropolis. At that time, the government officials and law-enforcement agencies asserted that it was an attempt to create fear and panic among the citizens.
Though last year was considered relatively peaceful, at least one incident in Karachi was especially felt when 45 people of the Ismaili community were brutally massacred in a bus attack in Safoora Goth on May 13. Prior to this attack, on March 18, a grenade was hurled on a private school early morning. No one was hurt but a threatening Daesh leaflet was found from the premises. Later, on April 17, an American Dr Debra Lobo was critically injured in a firing incident at Shaheed-e-Millat road. Attackers threw pamphlets of Daesh in her car.
After seven days of the Safoora incident, on May 20, 2015 the Counter Terrorism Department of Sindh arrested four suspects who were allegedly involved in this horrific incident including its ring leader Tahir Minhas and second-in-command Saad Aziz alias Tin Tin. Another member of the gang Asad-ur-Rehman was later arrested on June 4. The Joint Interrogation was conducted from June 1-16. During interrogation, dreadful details were unearthed. According to the Joint Interrogation Team (JIT) report, 11 people carried out the massacre and that all of them were affiliated with the IS. Three of them including Azhar Ishrat, Asad-ur-Rehman and Hafiz Nasir were also affiliated with a local organisation Tanzeem-e-Islami.
The ring leader Tahir Hussain Minhas alias Sain and his number two Tin Tin were said to have been affiliated with al-Qaeda in the past. Tahir Minhas disclosed that the mastermind of the carnage was a man called Abdullah Yousaf and the task of attacking the bus carrying Ismaili community was selected and assigned by him. The JIT report shows that Abdullah Yousaf came to Karachi in September/October 2014 and is in Syria right now. According to security sources, Abdullah Yousaf is a resident of Karachi and moved to North Waziristan during 2012-13. He remained associated with al-Qaeda and when Arabs militants left for Syria and Iraq, he also left Pakistan along with them.
“Yousaf has links with the top leadership of IS including its self-claimed Khalifa, Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, and he had promised the Safoora attackers that he would take them to Syria after the successful accomplishment of the task,” says a high level security source. The JIT report about Tahir Minhas verified this statement that he wanted to go to Syria along with his family but was nabbed.
In 2015, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Sindh conducted a raid in Khayaban-e-Rahat, phase 6 of Defense Housing Scheme, Karachi and arrested a man Syed Sheaba Ahmed. During a press conference on September 16 last year, SSP CTD Naveed Khawaja disclosed that Sheaba was a financier of al-Qaeda Indian Subcontinent [AQIS] and had links with Tanzeem-e-Islami in the past. He was said to have been deported from UAE for holding and attending Dars-e-Quran session in Dubai. Interestingly, there has been a report in The News on May 11, 2007 that said: “The UAE has deported dozens of disciples of noted scholar Dr Israr Ahmed for holding Dars-e-Quran session in Dubai, fearing the spread of Talibanisation in the country”.
The interrogation report of Sheaba Ahmed divulged that some team members of the Safoora attackers used to attend his Islamic lecture at the Quran Academy and later at Masjid-e-Sahim of DHA Karachi. Their names are Mohammad Azhar Isharat, Hafiz Umar, Hafiz Nasir and Ali Rehman alias Tona.
On the night of July 28, 2015 Malik Ishaq, chief of banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, his two sons Usman and Haq Nawaz, and 11 attackers were killed in an alleged exchange of fire with police personnel in Muzaffargarh located in the southern part of Punjab. According to security sources, he along with his lieutenants was about to pledge allegiance to Daesh ameer Al Baghdadi.
There are unverified reports as well that banned Lashkar-e-Islam Chief Mangal Bagh has pledged allegiance to the IS.
On December 21, 2015, BBC’s Urdu website published a story that Daesh has started its FM radio service in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. It was also reported that resident of Mohmand Agency and Charsadda can listen to these airwaves and the residents were incited for extremism.
Moreover, news continues pouring in about heavy clashes between Afghan Taliban and Islamic State of Khorasan in Afghanistan. Hundreds of militants from both sides have been killed during these armed battles. It is being reported that Nangarhar province of Afghanistan is under the control of Daesh. The IS Khorasan chapter is fiercely making efforts to gain control of the region but is being given a tough response from the Afghan Taliban.
Media outlets of Pakistan, who are very critical of the terrorist outfits, have started facing the wrath of Daesh already. On November 20 and December 1 last year, the offices of Dunya tv in Faisalabad and Din News in Lahore were targeted with hand grenades but luckily no damage was done. A threatening pamphlet from the IS Khorasan chapter was also found from both the spots.
In an interesting development in August last year, Pakistan formally banned the activities of IS in the country. However, the million dollar question is that if there is no Daesh in the country, why has the interior ministry declared this terror outfit as proscribed in the region?
Like other parts of the world, the youth in Pakistan is getting inspired by the Islamic State’s slogan of khilafat and there are several local organisations that are vigorously promoting it. Social media is becoming a recruiting and brainwashing ground for religious-minded youth. A huge cache of jihadi material is available online and Pakistani cyber law is not equipped to tackle down this menace. Meanwhile, the IS is effectively operating its websites, forums and blogs, glorifying its advances in the hotbed of Middle East.
Defence analyst Brig (r) Asad Munir said: “These days Daesh is under attack from all corners and struggling for its survival. However, here in Pakistan there is no structure of Daesh. Nobody in Pakistan has announced any territory as IS; our youth is fascinated with the idea and dream of Khilafat and therefore they are either trying to reach the conflict zone or preaching its agenda.”
“Those who have left for Syria and Iraq will return home as monsters, like the Paris attacker Abdelhamid Abaaoud who initially went to Syria and joined the IS but came back to his hometown and orchestrated the French 9/11,” said Munir, fearing that this ‘sword of Damocles’ would remain hanging on our heads.