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November 14, 2014

Islamic State and Jundallah meeting creates ripples

November 14, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Amid swelling reports of the Islamic State (IS) rapidly emerging in Pakistan, a most recent meeting in Balochistan between the leadership of Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi-led IS and a splinter group of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan - Jundallah - has created ripples in the Pakistani establishment circles.
The news about the meeting between the delegations of the Islamic State and Jundallah appeared a day after Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan had ruled out the presence of the IS militants in Pakistan, saying: “No organisation of this name exists in Pakistan”. Ironically, the interior minister seemed ignorant of a confidential letter written to his ministry almost a month ago [on October 13) by the Balochistan home department, conveying a clear cut warning of increased footprints [in the country of IS] which is also known in Pakistan by the Arabic acronym Daish. The ‘secret information report’ stated that the IS has claimed to have recruited a massive 10,000 to 12,000 followers [in the province] from the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Kurram Agency of tribal areas. The report also warned that the IS plans to attack not only the government buildings and military establishments, but also some important personalities belonging to a particular sect.
While the interior minister refuted on November 11 the presence of the Islamic State in Pakistan, a spokesman for the TTP-linked jehadi group Jundallah claimed on November 12 that an IS delegation visited Jundallah’s leaders in Balochistan. Jundallah spokesman Fahad Marwat said in a statement that the visit of the IS delegation took place this week and the purpose was to see how it could work to unite various Pakistani jehadi groups. Jundallah is the same outfit that had claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack at the Wagah border post in Lahore on November 2, which killed 65 people. Jundallah’s spokesman had claimed that the Wagah attack was a reaction to the military

operation in the tribal region. A TTP splinter group, Jamaatul Ahraar, had also claimed carrying out the bloody act of suicide bombing at Wagah, saying it would release a video filming of the act very soon.
Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani had admitted on November 8 an increase in wall-chalking in Balochistan (which has now been visited by Jundallah) with slogans in support of Islamic State but denied in the same breath claims of the presence of IS militants on ground in Balochistan. This is despite the fact that the October 13 report prepared by the Baluchistan home department and sent to the federal security agencies had claimed a significant increase in IS activity in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan. On the other hand, Inspector General of Balochistan Police Nasir Khan Durrani has maintained: “The home department’s letter regarding the activities of Islamic State in our province was routine information which was passed on to the federal government as per routine as there is nothing serious about IS in Balochistan”.
While the government officials in Balochistan continue to downplay the rise of Islamic State in the province, the latest meeting between the leadership of IS and Jundallah has greatly perturbed the high ups of security establishment given the fact that Jundallah (the Army of Allah) has already claimed responsibility for the Wagah border bombing. Jundallah, which had emerged in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2003, has a long and gory history. The group is one of the dozen-plus anti-Shia franchises of the TTP, which operate under different names in different parts of the country, especially in Balochistan and Sindh.
Initially, patronised by Taliban commander Nek Mohammad [who was droned to death in 2004 in South Waziristan], the Pakistan chapter of the group is reputed to draw its cadre from the educated and professional classes like doctors and engineers. Jundallah mostly comprises elements of the now banned sectarian and jehadi outfits which have turned their wrath on Pakistani establishment in the wake of Pervez Musharraf’s U-turn on Jehad-e-Kashmir and Jehad-e-Afghanistan. Before claiming the Wagah border attack, Jundallah had claimed credit for the October 23, 2014 failed assassination attempt on Maulana Fazalur Rehman in Quetta, the June 23, 2013 killing of 10 foreign climbers at a base camp of the Nanga Parbat and the September 22, 2013 twin suicide bomb attacks targeting the All Saints Church in Peshawar which killed dozens.
However, the only act of terrorism for which Jundallah men had been convicted was the June 10, 2004 bombing on the cavalcade of the then Corps Commander Karachi Lt Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat. While the corps commander had a narrow escape in the attack on the old Clifton bridge 12 people, including eight military personnel, were killed in that ambush. Subsequent investigations revealed the involvement of Jundallah, which at that time was led by Ataur Rehman and patronised by the South Waziristan-based Taliban commander, Nek Mohammad. Barely six days after the botched attack, Nek Mohammad was killed in the first ever US drone strike on the Pakistani soil, on June 17 2004.
According to the information gathered by the security agencies, an intriguing common aspect in the profiles of most of Junduallah’s members is their past association with the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and the Islami Jamiat Tuleba. The Jundallah was established in 2003 by a former student leader of Islami Jamiat Tuleba Sheikh Ataur Rehman who had done his Masters’ from Karachi University in Statistics. Jundallah was initially a well-knit cell comprising of some 20 militants, most of them in their twenties and thirties; educated from professional working classes and mostly belonging to Islami Jamiat Tuleba. Ataur Rehman was assisted in recruiting youngsters to wage ‘jehad’ by Karachi’s Dr Arshad Waheed, an orthopaedic surgeon, his brother Dr Akmal Waheed, also a neurosurgeon and Engineer Ahsan Aziz. They were not only active members of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Medical Wing, Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, but also had close links with Syed Salahuddin-led Hizbul Mujahideen.
The creation of Jundallah was a prime example of al-Qaeda’s changing face in Pakistan. Being the eldest son of a businessman, Sheikh Ataur Rehman grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Karachi and worked actively first for Islami Jamiat Tuleba and then for Jamaat-e-Islami. His journey to terrorism began after he went to Afghanistan to receive military training there in 1991. Ata revealed during questioning after his arrest in the corps commander attack case that his brigade mostly targeted Shias, Westerners, foreign missions and security forces. He had formed Jundallah in 2003 after the March 1, 2003 arrest of top al-Qaeda leader and the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, from the Rawalpindi residence of a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Ahmed Abdul Qudoos, whose wife, Farzana Qudoos, was also an office bearer of the Rawalpindi chapter of the JI.
The Karachi police had arrested Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed after their cell phone numbers were found in Ataur Rehman’s mobile phone memory and he too confirmed that they were a part of the Jundallah network. The doctor brothers were sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment on March 14, 2005, only to be acquitted three months later for lack of evidence - on July 11, 2006 - after they challenged the verdict. But the doctor brothers’ Jundallah and al-Qaeda connections were firmly established when Dr Arshad Waheed was killed in a US drone attack in South Waziristan in March 2008. Al-Qaeda’s then chief operational commander, Mustafa Abu Yazid, who earlier claimed responsibility for the December 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, gave a eulogy for Dr Arshad Waheed in a 40-minute video message.
While Ataur Rehman is imprisoned at Karachi Central Jail after being convicted by an Anti Terrorism Court, Engineer Ahsan Aziz, another key Jundallah leader, was droned in Shuwedar village of Shawal Valley in North Waziristan on August 18, 2012. Going by the statement of Abdul Aziz, the father of Engineer Ahsan, his son and his son’s wife were also killed in the drone airstrike. His funeral prayers were led by the then ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed and attended by several key jehadi leaders, including Commander Syed Salahuddin. Commander Ahsan Aziz was part of the deep bench of Pakistani jehadis who had stepped in to fill mid and senior level leadership positions in al-Qaeda who had been droned by the US.

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