Pakistan's double win over terror
By Syed Saleem Shahzad | August 15, 2006
KARACHI - Pakistani intelligence agencies and jihadist circles are unanimous that the Pakistanis arrested last week in connection with the thwarted terror attacks on at least 10 aircraft flying from London had been penetrated by Pakistani intelligence since late last year.
However, there are contradictory opinions about the ultimate Pakistani intelligence objectives.
At least seven people were arrested in connection with the plot in the cities of Lahore and Karachi last week. Officials claim they provided important information about the plot. British security officials have detained 24 people - most of Pakistani origin - over the apparent plan to attack planes flying from the United Kingdom to the United States.
A senior Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online, "The real episode started after the earthquake in [Pakistan-administered] Kashmir in October 2005. Various Islamic charities were active to provide relief to the displaced Kashmiris. The US CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and British MI6 [Security Intelligence Service] contacted Pakistan and warned that under the cover of relief money, funds could possibly be transmitted to terror rings in Pakistan.
"MI6, the CIA and a special Pakistani intelligence cell coordinated investigations on the fund transfers. During those investigations, many people were rounded up in Pakistan."
This is where different opinions emerge, however. Pakistani officials have arrested Rashid Rauf (a British national) as a key suspect in the foiled terror plot and have accused him of being linked with al-Qaeda.
Contacts with close knowledge of the arrested men - in the earlier swoops as well as in the wake of the foiled plot - claim that none of them had links with al-Qaeda. Rather, they claim, they were linked with al-Muhajiroun and Hizbut Tehrir.
Hizbut Tehrir (Liberation Party) is a non-violent organization founded in the early 1950s in Jordan for the liberation of Palestine. Its ultimate aim is the revival of the caliphate, which it tries to bring about by toppling what it sees as corrupt Islamic governments.
Pakistan has been particularly hard on the group, most of whose members are British-born Pakistanis sent to work in Pakistan. The most apparent reason is these youths want to stage a coup against the government of President General Pervez Musharraf and infiltrate institutions such as the army.
Muhajiroun is a breakaway faction of Hizbut Tehrir. Most of its members are in the UK. Famous Egyptian scholar Omar al-Bakri was its leader. Muhajiroun was banned in the UK last year after its praise of the attacks on the London Underground.
A contact from among the senior levels of the jihadist cadre told Asia Times Online, "Boys from organizations like al-Muhajiroun and Hizbut Tehrir come to Pakistan from the UK and have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They are British-born Pakistanis and are interested in [fomenting] a coup in Pakistan. A few of them have been arrested in the past in Islamabad while distributing pamphlets, and then released. I can tell you with surety that the boys [recently] arrested in Pakistan have long been identified by the Pakistani establishment.
"Their fate started when they interacted with a few officials of the Pakistani army. This they were very keen to penetrate to stage a coup, therefore they were close to a few army officers. They were delighted that they had penetrated into the army, but in fact Pakistani intelligence - coming from a strong military background - penetrated deep into them," said the jihadi.
"Those youths, in their 20s and completely unaware of Pakistani society, were very thrilled with their success and even shared their views with people in Islamabad, saying that many officers had agreed to a coup. In fact, we warned them that military officials were only loyal to their job and they would not be committed to any revolutionary cause.
"The youths from Muhajiroun did not agree, and continued to meet with intelligence operators, whom they thought were military officials of the Pakistan army," the jihadi said.
"The closeness of the Pakistani intelligence with some boys with a Muhajiroun background was a known fact, but at what stage it turned out to be their 'London terror plot', we are completely in the dark.
"However, I safely make a conjecture that those highly motivated boys were exploited by agents provocateurs. A religious Muslim youth in his early 20s is undoubtedly full of hatred against the US, and if somebody would guide them to carry out any attack on US interests, there would be a strong chance that they would go for that.
"And I think this is exactly what happened. The government of Pakistan has been seriously trying to cleanse groups like Muhajiroun and Hizbut Tehrir from Pakistan, as well as from the UK. Both groups are fiercely anti-establishment and serious about staging a coup in Pakistan and were enhancing their influence among youths in cities like Lahore and Islamabad. So they were basically trapped," the jihadi said.
It should be remembered that Hizbut Tehrir and Muhajiroun were banned in Pakistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US and all police stations have strict instructions to arrest any person claiming to be the member of the groups.
In the recent past, Pakistani authorities have been arresting members of both organizations under anti-terrorism laws. However, the courts have been releasing them on the basis of insufficient evidence.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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