Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Who's This Man?

The name of Qari Saifullah Akhtar has figured repeatedly--in a plot to overthrow Benazir Bhutto in 1995, in Daniel Pearl case in 2002, the two attempts to assassinate Musharraf in Dec,2003, and the unsuccessful attack on Benazir at Karachi on October

Who's This Man?
Who's This Man?

A day after the assassination of Lt Gen Mushtaq Baig, the Surgeon-General of the Pakistan Army, by an unidentified suicide bomber at Rawalpindi on February 25,2008, the Lahore Police have announced the arrest of Qari Saifullah Akhtar, former Amir of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami (HUJI) and his three sons--Muhammad Asif Ali alias Hassan, Abdul Rehman alias Mani and Mureed Ahmad alias Abu Dajana--from a mosque near Lahore. They also announced the arrest of Fahad Munir alias Mithtoo, a nephew of the late Riaz Basra, of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ).

In 2002, the Police had picked up Riaz Basra for interrogation during the investigation into the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, who was working for the Wall Street Journal. The Police never officially admitted his arrest. They showed him as killed in an encounter with the police when he resisted arrest.

Hamid Nawaz, the Pakistani Interior Minister, has been quoted as telling the media that Qari Saifullah would be questioned by the police in connection with the investigation into the unsuccessful suicide attack on Ms.Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister, at Karachi on October 18, 2007.

In the revised edition of her memoir titled Recollections, published after her assassination on December 27, 2007, she had written as follows: 

""I was informed of a meeting that had taken place in Lahore where the bomb blasts (of October 18, 2007) were planned. According to 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 the detonation. Presumably this was the one holding the baby. However, a bomb maker was needed for the bombs. Enter Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government. He had been extradited by the United Arab Emirates and was languishing in Karachi central jail. According to my second source, the officials in Lahore had turned to Akhtar for help. His liaison with elements in the government, according to this source, was a radical who was asked to make the bombs and himself asked for a fatwa making it legitimate to oblige. He got one(p.221)".

Since 1995, the name of Qari Saifullah Akhtar had figured repeatedly in connection with various investigations-- a plot to overthrow Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister, in 1995, the kidnapping and murder of Pearl in 2002, the suicide attack on French submarine experts in Karachi in 2002, the two attempts to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December,2003, and the unsuccessful attack on Benazir at Karachi on October 18, 2007.

In 1995, the Pakistani Military Intelligence arrested Maj-Gen-Zahir-ul-Islam Abbasi, former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence set-up in the 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 arrested army officers were court-martialled and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, Saifullah was not prosecuted. He was released after some months in detention. Abbasi was released from jail after Musharraf seized power in October 1999. The HUJI joined Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) after it was formed in 1998.

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. In this 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 Taliban and Mulla Umar fled from his stronghold in Kandahar, a Pakistani personality also fled with him. This was Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of Harkat 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, the rest stole back into Pakistan to establish themselves in Waziristan and Buner. Their military training camp (maskar) in Kotli in Azad Kashmir swelled with new fighters and now the outfit is scouting some areas in the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province )to create a supplementary maskar 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 Kashmir under the name of Harkatul Jahad Brigade 111.

"The leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, Qari Saifullah Akhtar was an adviser to Mulla Umar in the Taliban government. His fighters were called ‘Punjabi’ Taliban and were offered employment, something that other outfits could not get out of Mulla Umar. The outfit had membership among the Taliban too. Three Taliban ministers and 22 judges belonged to the Harkat. In difficult times, the Harkat fighters stood 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 received military training. From its base in Afghanistan, Harkat launched its campaigns inside Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya. But the distance of Qari Saifullah Akhtar from the organisation’s Pakistani base did not lead to any rifts. In fact, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami emerged from the defeat of the Taliban largely intact. In Pakistan Qari Akhtar has asked the ‘returnees’ to lie low for the time being, while his Pakistani fighters already engaged are busy in jihad as before.

"The Harkat is the only militia which boasts international linkages. It calls itself ‘the second line of defence of all Muslim states’ and is active 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-raising is largely from Pakistan, but an additional source is its activity of selling weapons to other militias. Its acceptance among the Taliban was owed to its early allegiance to a leader of the Afghan war, Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi and his Harkat Inqilab Islami whose fighters became a part 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 other seven militias.

"According to the journal Al-Irshad of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, published from Islamabad, a Deobandi group led by Maulana Irshad Ahmad was established in 1979. Looking for the right Afghan outfit in exile to join in Peshawar, Maulana Irshad Ahmad adjudged Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi as the true Deobandi and decided to join him in 1980. Harkat Inqilab Islami was set up by Maulana Nasrullah Mansoor Shaheed and was taken over by Nabi Muhammadi after his martyrdom. Eclipsed in Pakistan, Maulana Irshad Ahmad fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets 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.

"According to some sources, Harkatul Mujahideen was a new name given to Harkatul Ansar after it was declared terrorist by the United States. Other sources claim that it was Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami that had earlier merged with Harkatul Ansar. But relations with Fazlur Rehman Khaleel remained good, but when Maulana Masood Azhar separated from Harkatul Mujahideen and set up his own Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami opposed Jaish in its journal Sada-e-Mujahid (May 2000) and hinted that ‘you-know-who’ had showered Jaish with funds. Jaish was supported by Mufti Shamzai of Banuri (Binori) Mosque of Karachi and was given a brand new maskar in Balakot by the ISI.

"The sub-militia (of the HUJI) fighting in Kashmir is semi-autonomous and is led by chief commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. Its training 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-Jahad al-Islami went into Kashmir in 1991 but was at first opposed by the Wahhabi elements there because of its refusal to criticise the grand Deobandi congregation of Tableeghi Jamaat and its quietist posture. But as days passed, its warriors were recognised as ‘Afghanis’. It finally had more martyrs in the jihad of Kashmir than any other militia. Its resolve and organisation were recognised when foreigners were seen fighting side by side with its Punjabi warriors.

"To date, 650 Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami mujahideen have been killed in battle against the Indian army: 190 belonging to both sides of Kashmir, 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.

"Because of its allegiance to the spiritual legacy of Deobandism, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami did not attack the Tableeghi Jamaat, which stood it in good stead because it became the only militia whose literature was allowed to be distributed during the congregations of the Tableeghi Jamaat, and those in the Pakistani establishment attending the congregation were greatly impressed by the militia’s organizational excellence. It contained more graduates of the seminaries than any other militia, thus emphasising its religious character as envisaged by its founder and by Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi. It kept away from the sectarian conflict unlike Jaish-e-Muhammad but its men were at times put off by the populist Kashmiri Islam and reacted violently to local practices.

"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 in battle against the Uzbek president Islam Karimov, as explained in the Islamabad-based journal Al-Irshad. Starting in 1990, the war against Uzbekistan was bloody and was supported by the Taliban, till in 2001, the commander had to ask the Pakistanis in Uzbekistan to return to base.

"In Chechnya, the war against the Russians was carried on under the leadership of commander Hidayatullah. Pakistan’s embassy in Moscow once denied that there were any Pakistanis involved in the Chechnyan war, but journal Al-Irshad (March 2000) declared from Islamabad that the militia was deeply involved in the training of guerrillas in Chechnya for which purpose commander Hidayatullah was stationed in the region. It estimated that ‘dozens’ of Pakistani fighters had been martyred fighting against Russian infidels.

"When the Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami men were seen first in Tajikistan, they were mistaken by some observers as being fighters from Sipah Sahaba, but in fact they were under the command of commander Khalid Irshad Tiwana, helping Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev resist the Uzbek ruling class in the Ferghana Valley. The anti-Uzbek warlords were being sheltered by Mulla Umar in Afghanistan.

"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 inside Korangi and the area is sometimes called mini-Arakan. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has opened 30 seminaries for them inside Korangi, there being 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 went to Afghanistan, took military training there and fought the jihad from 1982 to 1988. In Korangi, the biggest seminary is Madrasa Khalid bin Walid where 500 Burmese are under training. They were trained in Afghanistan and later made to fight against the Northern Alliance and against the Indian army in Kashmir. The Burmese prefer to stay in Pakistan, and very few have returned to Burma or to Bangladesh. There are reports of their participation in the religious underworld in Karachi.

"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 Bank in Islamabad, which have not been frozen because the organisation is not under a ban. The authorities have begun the process of reorganisation of jihad by changing names and asking the various outfits to merge. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has been asked to merge with Harkatul 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-Tayba have been clubbed together as Al-Jihad. All the Barelvi organisations, so far located only in Azad Kashmir, have been put together as Al-Barq. Al-Badr and Hizbe Islami have been renamed as Al-Umar Mujahideen, " the article concluded.

Saifullah's name had figured along with that of Amjad Hussain Farooqi in connection with the investigation into the two attempts to kill Musharraf at Rawalpindi in December,2003. He managed to run away to the United Arab Emirates before he could be arrested.The Pakistani media reported that Saifullah was picked up by the Dubai authorities on August 6, 2004, and handed over to the Pakistani authorities, who had him flown to Pakistan the next day.

The Daily Times of Lahore wrote in an editorial [August 09, 2004] after the arrest of Saifullah as follows: 

"Qari Saifullah Akhtar--born in 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 Osama bin Laden and Mullah Umar together as partners-in-jihad. Qari Saifullah’s repatriation (from the UAE) signals the closing of the Saudi channel of escape for the Deobandi jihadis.But Qari Saifullah was not the only one hiding in that region. There were other less known personalities with 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 is significant. It happened after the arrest of Al Qaeda operative Muhammad Khalfan Ghailani from Gujrat along with Al Qaeda’s computer genius Muhammad Naeem Nur Khan. It is said that the Pakistani agencies recruited Khan as a double agent and were thus able to communicate with Al Qaeda through him. Because of a premature disclosure of Khan as a double agent in the United States, the slowly tightening noose around Al Qaeda in the UK had to be quickly sprung. The home-coming of Qari Saifullah Akhtar could well be connected with the revelations made in Gujrat.""

On August 20, 2004, the Pakistani authorities had announced cash rewards amounting to Rs.20 million each (US $ 344800) to anyone who 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 kill Musharraf.

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 rented house in Nawabshah in Sindh, where he along with some others had been living for two months.

Talking to the media at The Hague on September 27,2004, Musharraf was reported to have stated as follows:

"We eliminated one of the very major sources of terrorist attacks. He was not only involved in attacks on me, but also in attacks elsewhere in the country. So a very big terrorist has been eliminated."

Reliable accounts from Nawabshah indicated that if the Pakistani authorities had wanted, they could have caught him alive and questioned him about the role of Pakistani civilian and military officials in the various post-9/11 terrorist incidents, including the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the attempts to kill Musharraf himself and Shaukat Aziz, the then Finance Minister, who subsequently became the Prime Minister, and the attacks directed against American and French targets. But, they did not allegedly want to capture him alive.

In a report under the heading "Real conspirators in Musharraf case may never be exposed", Kamran Khan, the Pakistani investigative journalist, stated as follows in the News of September 28, 2004: 

"Senior lawyers say that the killing of Amjad Farooqi, the main accused in President Musharraf and Daniel Pearl cases, may also influence the final outcome of the two most important cases. A nationwide military investigation 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 Commander Corps 10 (My comment: Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the present Army chief), who received inputs from all federal and provincial law enforcement 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.


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