Former Army officer was the ring leader of the GHQ attackers


LAHORE: Mohammad Aqeel alias Dr Osman, the only Pakistani militant captured alive in critical condition from the premises of the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army in the garrison town of Rawalpindi after the October 10, 2009 bloody terrorist attack is a member of the Punjab chapter of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and has the distinction of having served the Army Medical Corps as a nurse at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Rawalpindi till 2006.

Mohammad Aqeel had abandoned the army service in 2006 to join the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) led by the CBI’s Most Wanted Maulana Masood Azhar. He remained affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for a brief period and later joined the Azad Kashmir chapter of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI) led by Commander Ilyas Kashmiri who had been working in tandem with the TTP chief Commander Baitullah Mehsud in the South Waziristan Agency, before being killed in a US drone attack in August 2009. According to a video released by the Geo television network a couple of days after the GHQ attack, Aqeel was shown getting military training at an unknown place in the South Waziristan tribal region.

A mastermind of several past terrorist attacks, Aqeel decided to become a part of the team that was sure to die during the GHQ raid. And that’s why he had left a video which was to be aired after his “fidayeen mission”. Going by his dossier of activities, Aqeel was not an ordinary terrorist led by the nose by his handlers. He was himself the handler and probably knew well that the GHQ attack would not get very far. The daring assault was most likely a symbolic move to reassert the power of the Pakistani Taliban in the backdrop of Baitullah Mehsud’s death and the subsequent media reports about its declining might.

Aqeel knew it was going to be his last act and he did try to blow himself up with an anti-personnel mine at around 9am on October 11, 2009, but survived the explosion and was captured in a seriously wounded condition. Six commandos were killed as a result of the blast in the final phase of the GHQ operation which was carried out by the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army, 18 hours after the GHQ attack to rescue 42 people taken hostage, most of whom were khakis.

The Punjab police had been looking for Aqeel since 2006 in connection with a number of terrorist attacks carried out in the province. He was first named in a failed attempt to target President General Pervez Musharraf’s plane in 2006 by using an anti aircraft gun from the roof top of a house in Rawalpindi. Osman, a nursing assistant in the Army Medical Corps working at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi, went underground immediately after the incident and a case was registered against him with the Burni police station in Rawalpindi. The Punjab Police, ISI, IB and the CID launched a coordinated operation for his arrest but failed.

Aqeel later joined three different jehadi and sectarian organisation including – the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Jhahngvi and the Harkatul Jehadul Islami and finally became an active member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Besides masterminding the February 2008 murder of the Surgeon General of Pakistan Army, Lt-General Mushtaq Baig, in a suicide bomb attack outside the GHQ, he is believed to have led the March 3, 2009 bloody attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Interestingly, Aqeel’s’s father was an ex army official who had three sons and three daughters.

It is pertinent to mention that Aqeel had in fact been arrested by the secretariat police station, Islamabad in October 2008 for his alleged involvement in the September 2008 suicide attack on the Marriot Hotel suicide bombing. Reports published in national newspapers on October 25, 2008, said that an anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi had been told by the Islamabad police that four people had been arrested in connection with the Marriot Hotel attack. The report said that the investigation officer Altaf Khattak had informed the ATC No 2 that the Secretariat police, Islamabad had arrested Dr Osman, Rana Ilyas, Hameed Afzal and Tehseenullah Khan.

Aqeel had also been a part of an earlier conspiracy, hatched by Ilyas Kashmiri, to assassinate the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, in collusion with al-Qaeda, largely because of the COAS’s lead role in the ongoing war against terror. General Ashfaq Kayani’s daily visits to a gymnasium were reportedly tracked by an Aqeel-led al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan, and it was decided that he would be targeted by a suicide bomber as soon as he would step out of his car. However, the plan could not be materialized after being leaked out to the intelligence agencies.

Hardly two few weeks before Ilyas was accused of conspiring to target Kayani, Ilyas Kashmiri was named in a charge sheet filed by the Islamabad police in the November 2008 gruesome murder of Major General (retd) Amir Faisal Alvi, the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG). The 12-page charge sheet submitted in an anti-terrorism court on May 12, 2009 had stated that the former SSG commanding officer was killed to avenge the role he had played in the fight against Taliban linked militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The charge-sheet prepared by the Koral police station said three people involved in the assassination and already arrested included Major (retd) Haroon Ashiq, a resident of Azad Kashmir; Mohammad Nawaz Khan of Peshawar and Ashfaq Ahmed of Okara. According to the charge, Alvi’s murder was carried out on the instructions of Ilyas Kashmiri who had also provided funds and weapons.

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