PAKISTAN: FORMER BIN LADEN AIDE AND MILITANT FIGHTS FOR LIFE AFTER ATTACK

Karachi, 29 March (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - The leader of one of Pakistan's most feared militant groups, who was also once a close aide to Osama bin Laden, is currently in critical condition in a Rawalpindi hospital after surviving an attempt on his life. Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, the chief of the banned Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen, was dumped in front of a mosque in the outskirts of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

"Don't call it an accident," said Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen's official spokesperson Sultan Zia in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI). "It was a fully managed episode," he said.

The militant organisation, which was then known as Harkat-ul-Ansar, was blacklisted as a terror group by the US State Department in 1994.

Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf banned the organisation in 2001 and Khalil has kept a low profile ever since.

"Fazlur Rehman Khalil does not have any personal feud against anybody," said Zia. "In the incident it seems that a few people were chasing him and when he reached Tarnol and offered his Magrib prayers on Tuesday evening at a prayer's place (not a proper mosque), around five people kidnapped him and his driver. They beat him mercilessly and suffocated him. Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil was unconscious and so they believed that he was dead and left him and his driver with their hands tied with ropes," said Zia.

"It was coincidence that people nearby found them and provided first aid so that they survived," Zia maintained.

According to Sultan Zia, the abductors were repeatedly saying that they were after Khalil for quite some time but they did not have a chance to get him.

Fazlur Rehman Khalil was one of the oldest jihadi leaders in Afghanistan, famed for fighting against the Soviets. He founded Harkat after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and fought alongside the mujahadeen forces.

Harkat was respected in jihadi circles for its role in the defeat of the communist Afghan Army of Afghanistan in the south-eastern Afghan province of Khost where the militant group then seized control in 1991. Khost was the first major city which fell to the mujahadeen fighters. The Harkat fighters also fought along side with the fugitive Taliban leader Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani.

When the United States under the administration of Bill Clinton fired cruise missiles to target bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998, Kandahar was attacked in a bid to kill the al-Qaeda leader and Khost was attacked to destroy the bases of the Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen in the province.

After the attacks, bin Laden held a press conference in Afghanistan, while at the same time Khalil held a separate press conference in Pakistan in which he supported bin Laden's statement to attack American interests all over the world. At the press conference, he also asserted that the Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen would take revenge on the US attack on Afghanistan.

After the 1998 attacks, Khalil also went on to hold many seminars in Pakistan in favour of bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader provided him with large sums of money which he is believed to have embezzeled, after which he fell out of favour with bin Laden.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the FBI sought to interrogate him. It is believed they managed to do so and that Khalil was injected with various medicines which eventually affected his mental health. He often complained of physical problems as a result of the FBI interrogation

Sources said that although Khalil reportedly had abandoned all jihadi activities, the Pakistani authorities recently became suspicious about his activities and have interrogated him regarding his alleged ties with the Taliban fighters in the tribal region of Waziristan which borders Afghanistan.
(Syed Saleem Shahzad)

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