Lahore suicide hit: Punjabi Taliban avenge LeJ commander’s death


LAHORE: The March 8 suicide bombing in Lahore, the provincial capital of Pakistan’i Punjab, is believed to have been carried out by the Punjab chapter of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to avenge the killing of Commander Qari Mohammad Zafar, the acting ameer of the al-Qaeda-linked sectarian-turned jehadi group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in an American drone strike in North Waziristan on February 24, 2010.

The first attack of its kind in the province during the current year took place at 8.15am when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden vehicle into the SIU building, killing at least 15 people besides injuring 77 others. A home department official said 400kgs to 500kgs of explosives had been used. A trench dug by the authorities and filled with water to secure the SIA cell prevented the attacker from ramming his vehicle into the wall of the building. Although the vehicle was blown up on the road a few feet away from the trench, its impact was so devastating that it left an eight-foot deep and 15-foot wide crater on the road and razed the two-storey building.

While confirming Qari Zafar’s death in a statement faxed to local journalists on February 25, a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi spokesman had described him as a martyr and pledged to avenge his death. “The mujahideen will soon take revenge from the Pakistani government for his killing by resorting to suicide bombings anywhere in the country”, the LeJ spokesman added. Zafar was killed alongwith nine other Punjabi Taliban in Peerano Killay area of Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, when a drone struck his hideout. He was wanted by the American as well as Pakistani authorities for his alleged involvement in the March 2, 2006 car bombing outside the US consulate in Karachi which killed three people including a US diplomat David Foy, thus making the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to announce a $5 million bounty on his head.

Originally coming from Karachi, Qari Zafar had joined hands with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and was appointed the ameer of the Punjab chapter of the TTP which is blamed for carrying out a series of bloody fidayeen attacks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad in 2009, including the October 10, 2009 assault on the General headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. The only fidayeen attacker captured alive after the GHQ assault which also killed a serving Brigadier of Pakistan Army was a Punjabi Taliban Mohammad Aqeel alias Dr Usman, who was a key member of the LeJ and a close associate of Zafar. The GHQ attack was reportedly carried out by the Punjabi Taliban to avenge the August 2009 killing of the founding TTP ameer, Commander Baitullah Mehsud, in a US drone attack in South Waziristan. Punjabi Taliban is a blanket term used for the members of several Sunni sectarian and jehadi groups which are mainly based in South Punjab.

Those investigating the Model Town bombing say the target of the human bomb, riding a single cabin van, was the K-Block, Model Town office of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) which had actually been created under the umbrella of the Punjab Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Primarily an intelligence collection agency, the CID collects, collates and disseminates information to the relevant provincial government departments and law enforcement agencies in a bid to minimize terrorist activities in the Punjab. However, the SIU was soon separated from the CID as an autonomous police wing working directly under the Punjab home department and primarily responsible for interrogation of hardened jehadi and sectarian terrorists being arrested in Punjab. While the SIU headquarters is located in the E-Block area of Model Town, its interrogation centre is situated in K-Block. The SIU investigators led by assistant director Malik Rashid had been interrogating at its K-Block centre some important members of the Punjabi Taliban network who had been arrested from parts of South Punjab on the basis of information provided by Aqeel alias Osman.

The interrogation of the Punjabi Taliban belonging to the LeJ was carried out jointly by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) headed by Major (retd) Mushtaq and the Special Investigation Group (SIG) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for almost a week after which they were shifted to Rawalpindi a few days ago. The SIG functions as a Counter Terrorism Unit of the FIA and investigates along with the provincial police department offences that are punishable under Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. Those investigating the Model Town bombing say the attack might have been a coordinated operation to avenge the killing of Qari Zafar who was working in tandem with a key leader of the TTP, Qari Hussain Mehsud, better known as Ustad-e-Fidayeen (Teacher of suicide bombers). Zafar and Mehsud had last appeared before newsmen on October 5, 2009 in South Waziristan when the TTP chief, Hakeemullah Mehsud, thought to have been killed, had addressed a press conference to refute media reports of his death in a US drone attack.

Those investigating the Model Town suicide attack further reminded that hardly a few days before the February 24 death of Qari Zafar, an anti-terrorism court in Karachi had indicted [on February 20]Mohammad Ajmal alias Akram Lahori, the acting chief of the LeJ, in a 2002 murder case. They reminded that these two developments and the Model Town bombing incidentally took place exactly a year after the March 2009 serial suicide attacks in Lahore. On March 4 last year, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the Navy War College building on the Mall Road in Lahore, killing eight Navy employees. Six days later, on March 11, terrorists once again struck Lahore by using suicide bombers – the first batch targeted the FIA headquarters on the busy Temple Road [killing 33 people], and a few minutes later a second batch targeted the SIU headquarters in the E-Block area of Model Town. However, the suicide bomber riding a van ripped through an advertising agency’s office by mistake, confusing it with the undercover office of the SIU, killing two children and their father – a gardener on the premises.

Subsequent investigations had shown that the attackers were the Punjabi Taliban belonging to at least three Sunni sectarian-cum-jehadi groups which are working in tandem with the Pushtun-dominated South Waziristan-based Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to carry out joint terrorist attacks. The investigators had reported that some banned militant-cum-sectarian groups in Punjab are gaining strength after having joined hands with the TTP. According to them, several members of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkatul Jehadul Islami [largely belonging to the southern Punjab]who fought in the Afghan war, have tied up with the TTP to carry out attacks against important government, military and police installations.

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