Karachi in the Eye of the storm?

KARACHI: Sectarian organisations regrouping in city
By Azfar-ul-Ashfaque, Dawn, August 26, 2008

KARACHI, Aug 24: The re-emergence of two banned militant outfits in the city has posed a serious threat to the security situation amid growing fears of sectarian violence, Dawn has learnt.

Background interviews with various police and intelligence officials revealed that militants of two banned outfits — Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and Sipah-i-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) — have returned to the city and are now busy in regrouping and expanding their network.

Former president Pervez Musharraf had slapped a ban on the two sectarian outfits, along with several others, in 2001 and launched a countrywide crackdown. Scores of militants of the two banned parties were arrested but there were many who had managed to evade the crackdown and fled to the country’s tribal areas.

Police and intelligence agencies have credible reports about the presence of militants of the two sectarian outfits in the city. Also, the graffiti that appeared in many city localities regarding the two banned parties has sent alarm bells ringing with the quarters concerned.

‘Proxy war’

An intelligence official told Dawn that the gravity of the situation could be gauged from the fact that the two outlawed organisations were planning attacks on important personalities of their rival sects, including certain politicians. “Basically, both the SMP and LJ are set to launch a proxy war against each other in Karachi to avenge whatever has been going on in Parachinar, Dera Ismail Khan or the tribal areas,” he observed.

He said that while the LJ militants have links with some religious parties, some local leaders of a major political party were allegedly patronising the SMP militants.

Quoting information that had been gleaned from some suspects, sources said that a wanted militant, Ali Mustehsan, is reportedly operating the network of the SMP in the city and is acting on the directives of Zulqarnain Haider, who had recently returned to Karachi and succeeded in reuniting the two factions of the SMP, Baqiatullah and Pasban-i-Islam.

They said that other SMP militants including Muhib alias Yawar Abbas, Mohsin Mehdi, Hashim Raza, Asim Zaidi, Rashid alias Hasan, Sarfaraz and Azhar, are also in the city and planning a major strike.

The sources said that various groups of LJ militants are operating in the city and one of them was allegedly behind last month’s killings of three persons, including a prosecution witness of the 2001 Imambargah Ali Murtaza firing case against Akram Lahori and other LJ militants.

On July 7, Dr Mohsin Raza Rizvi, the secretary-general of the Shia Ulema Council, was shot dead by unknown motorcyclists outside his clinic in the Mehmoodabad police limits.

The sources said that he was targeted owing to the fact that he had testified against four LJ militants — Akram Lahori, Tasadduq Hussain, Mohammad Azam and Attaullah — during the trial of the Imambargah Ali Murtaza firing case, in which six worshippers were shot dead. All the four were convicted in 2003 but in 2006, the Sindh High Court had set aside their conviction.

A senior police official told Dawn that during the last three weeks, the CID police and an intelligence outfit had jointly conducted raids on several places to nab a wanted LJ militant, Qari Jamil Burmi, but failed.

They said that Burmi recently re-organised his group in the city and was in touch with his other comrades through one Qari Rizwan.

The sources said that the law enforcing agencies have specific information about five other LJ militants — Basit, Irfan, Saleem, Mohammad Ali and Amjad Bhatti — and they were trying hard to arrest them before they carry out any subversive activity.

Compared to the SMP, the sources termed the LJ militants more dangerous because of their links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Safe havens

They said that even though a neighbouring country and militants fighting in the Kurram Agency are supporting the SMP activists, the LJ has safe havens in the rest of the tribal areas, particularly in Waziristan.

There are reports that some LJ militants were busy in enticing youths to strengthen their cadre.

There are also reports that sectarian terrorists may strike in the city before Ramazan in order to destabilise the new government, which is already busy in fighting militants in the troubled tribal areas.

“In order to divert the government’s attention, the terrorists may turn Karachi into a battlefield. We are alert to face such challenges,” said an intelligence official.

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