LeT: Spreading Menace
By Ajit Kumar Singh/ South Asia Intelligence Review,The Pakistani American Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley reportedly disclosed to his National Investigation Agency (NIA) interrogators that the LeT continued to actively execute surveys of major targets in India.
These surveys were principally carried out by visiting agents and not by activating sleeper cells.
According to Headley, at least 100 targets in India had been identified, listed, surveyed and photographed by different LeT agents. Headley, who was one of such agents, said he was not aware of the identities and nationalities of the others, as his Pakistani 'handlers' were careful not to reveal details. He further indicated that he had videographed and photographed some 30 targets in several Indian cities.
These included the targets of the November 26, 2008, (also known as 26/11) terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Maharashtra), for which he had conducted detailed surveys during his nine visits to India between 2006 and 2008.
The NIA team had interrogated Headley over seven days [June 3-10] in what the US described as unrestricted "direct access", as part of the cooperation and partnership between the US and India in the fight against international terrorism.
Headley, who had changed his given name of Daood Gilani in 2006 to scout targets in Mumbai, had pleaded guilty on March 18, 2010, in a Chicago Court, to 12 Federal terrorism charges. He admitted that he participated in planning the 26/11 terrorist attacks, as well as later planning to attack a Danish newspaper.
Headley's disclosures corroborate the constant warnings by both the Indian as well as foreign intelligence agencies of impending LeT attacks in India. Intelligence reports in the recent past have indicated that the LeT was planning to abduct key political leaders, target helicopters carrying VIPs, strike public functions with explosives-laden trucks, hire or hijack aircraft or helicopters to carry out 9/11-type attacks, target scientists working in sensitive areas such as defence and space, among several other plots.
The LeT's high profile targets include the National Defence Academy in Khadagwasla (Maharashtra), the National Defence College, Delhi, defence establishments in Pune (Maharashtra), and multinational corporation Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu's HITEC City offices in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). On June 28, 2010, Indian intelligence officials have intercepted phone conversations between LeT 'commanders', which established that the group was planning fresh attacks at landmarks in different cities, including Srinagar, Jammu, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
The conversations also discussed a strike against top politicians. Further, on June 30, intelligence agencies warned that Indian missions in Bangladesh and Nepal were under threat of a possible joint attack by the LeT and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). Earlier, on April 7, the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College warned that India's transportation, economic infrastructure and political establishment were on the LeT's radar.
These threats have already materialized in the first major Islamist terrorist attack, outside Jammu and Kashmir (J and K), after the 26/11 carnage, in the German Bakery bomb blast in Pune's Koregaon Park, near the Osho Ashram, on February 13, 2010, in which nine persons, including four foreigners, were killed and over 40 were injured.
The attack came just days after an open threat by the LeT. Addressing a rally in Islamabad (Pakistan) on February 5, Abdur Rehman Makki, 'deputy' to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, declared that, while the jihadis were earlier interested only in the liberation of Kashmir, the water issue had now ensured that "Delhi, Pune and Kanpur" were all fair targets.
Top LeT leaders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Yousuf Muzammil, Ahmad Bhai and Zarar Shah are currently in custody on charges of involvement in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, and have been replaced by new 'commanders' to step up terrorist operations in J and K and other parts of India.
According to intelligence sources, these new 'commanders' include Raza Ahmed aka Shahji aka Abu Anas of Bahawalpur in the Punjab province of Pakistan, who had earlier operated as the 'divisional commander' for North Kashmir for almost a decade, before he was called back to Pakistan; Hyder Bhai aka Bilal aka Salahuddin, known for several fidayeen (suicide squad) attacks in J and K; Abdul Gaffar aka Huzefa aka Khalid, who was earlier active in Gandarbal in Central Kashmir; and Walid, who had been active in Lolab in North Kashmir.
According to sources, the initial focus of the four new 'commanders', all of whom are Pakistani nationals, was the Kashmir Valley and the Doda-Rajouri-Poonch belt in Jammu, besides metropolitan and other major cities of India.
The LeT's current objectives, described in a poster at a March 23, 2010, rally, in slogans superimposed over an image of the burning Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, are to "free Kashmir, Pakistan's lifeline, from the enemy"; work for the "freedom of the Muslims of Gujarat, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and the rest of India" ; and to "save Pakistan's parched rivers."
Maps posted on the JuD's Facebook page provide a graphic illustration of its ambitions. One map of India is emblazoned with Pakistan's crescent moon and star symbol and JuD flag flying on the Red Fort in New Delhi. In another, much of northern, north-eastern and central India are referred to as Pakistan. Nepal, Bangladesh and south India are marked "disputed territories."
The page also carries a facsimile of a Hadith — sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad — which purports to provide scriptural legitimacy to the JuD's jihad. "A King of the House of the Pious," it prophesies, "will send a Lashkar [army] towards India.
The mujahideen (holy warriors) will plunder the land of India, take over its treasures, and the King will use these treasures to honour the House of the Pious... The mujahideen of this Lashkar will conquer all territory between the east and west and will establish the Kingdom of the Pious."
The Facebook page also confirms LeT's close links with al-Qaeda, and contains several images of al-Qaeda chief Osama-bin-Laden. There is a low-resolution image of an individual, apparently Saeed, seated next to bin Laden. Such linkages are confirmed by US Defence Department report that states that the LeT has a "close relationship" with al Qaeda. Indian intelligence sources also indicate that a tie-up between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and LeT, for attacks aimed at India, has been established.
India's Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, disclosed, further, that LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JuM) and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) were earlier operating separately, but had now come together. The LeT has also linked up with the Indian Mujahedeen [IM], which is regarded as a potential resource base that the LeT hopes to use for identification and reconnaissance of targets and arranging logistics for terror attacks.
Despite purported 'restrictions' placed on it in Pakistan, the LeT remains flush with funds, collecting generous donations from the overseas Pakistani community in the Persian Gulf and the United Kingdom, Islamic non-Governmental organisations, Pakistani/Kashmiri business people and through its parent organisation JuD.
The terrorist group also counts on donations from sympathetic Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Islamist-leaning Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officers. The US Defence Department report indicated, further, that, "In addition, LeT maintains relations with extremist and/ or terrorist groups across the globe ranging from the Philippines to the Middle East and Chechnya by means of the JuD network."
While much of state support to the LeT is covert, it is significant that the Government of Pakistan's Punjab Province, gave about USD one million to institutions linked with the JuD, in 2009. "At least 80 million rupees [USD 940,000] have been allocated for the institutions [linked to Jamaat-ud-Dawa] during the current fiscal year," Rana Sanaullah, a senior Punjab Minister told the BBC.
However, he maintained that the institutions - which include two schools and a hospital - were no longer attached to JuD. When asked why the Punjab Government had allotted money in the budget for institutions it managed, a spokesman for JuD, Hafiz Abdur Rehman, responded: "The truth is that we are ourselves astonished at this."
Meanwhile, despite it losing a total of 142 of its cadres, including top 'commanders', who have been killed by the Security Forces since 26/11, the LeT appears to have more of a say in the Kashmir Valley, including in the wave of what is being described as "agitational terrorism". India has blamed separatist elements linked to the LeT for stoking unrest in the Kashmir Valley.
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram thus remarked, on June 30, "Anti-national elements are clearly linked to the LeT. We know that the Lashkar has been active in Sopore." Since the latter half of June 2010, major parts of Kashmir have repeatedly erupted in violent demonstrations, and a total of 11 'protesters' have already died in Police firing.
The Lashkar has created a significant base in South India as well. Reports indicate that LeT has two support groups in Kerala, and four Malayali (Keralite) LeT militants were killed in J and K on October 6, 2008.
On Jun 21, 2010, Kerala Police sources claimed that many boys from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, between the ages of 16 and 25, were being trained in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) under the supervision of LeT 'commanders'.
The LeT is also using its operatives in Bangladesh and Nepal to try set up a 'buffer zone' in interior areas of Bihar to carry out terror attacks both within the State and elsewhere in the country, top intelligence sources said. Mohammad Omar Madni, a close aide of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and the LeT's point man in Nepal told interrogators he had already recruited men in Katihar, Madhubani, Siwan, Bhagalpur, Gopalganj, Motihari, Betia and Muzzaffarpur Districts of Bihar for LeT's hawala operations, fake currency syndicates and drug-running.
Madni, was arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police near Qutb Minar in South Delhi on June 4, 2009. He reportedly disclosed that he had infiltrated into India on a 'talent hunt'. Madni was one among at least 18 LeT cadres arrested in India, outside J and K, since 26/11 (another 63 were arrested in J and K), blunting the outfits operations in the country.
One such arrest included the 'south India commander' of the LeT, identified as Shaik Abdul Khaja alias Amjad from Afzalgunj area of Hyderabad, on January 18, 2010. 24 ISI agents, with close ties to the LeT, have also been arrested in India since 26/11.
While the IM suffered a major reverse with the arrest of its senior cadres and elimination of others, including Atif Amin who was killed in the Batla House shootout on September 19, 2008, agencies feel that major leaders still at large - estimated to be over 20 - remain a threat and are crucial to the execution of the 'Karachi Project'.
The 'Karachi Project' is a 'joint venture' of the ISI and LeT, and involves serving and retired officers of the Pakistan Army and fugitive terrorists from India. The 'project', first revealed by Headley to his FBI interrogators, was designed to use Indians for setting off terror attacks in India. Headley indicated that five or six serving Pakistani officers were involved in the 'Karachi Project'. Meanwhile, on June 5, 2010, the Union Government declared the IM a terrorist outfit.
The LeT has now attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan as well. Though LeT's global presence is now widely acknowledged, the ISI had not previously used the group to target Indian establishments beyond Indian soil. The LeT's expansion into Afghanistan is believed to be directed against both international and Indian targets. A senior NATO intelligence official was quoted by The Times as saying , "The LeT is now active in six to eight provinces in Afghanistan, a big leap from hardly any presence five years ago."
Shaida Abdali, Afghanistan's deputy national security adviser referred to this more obliquely, stating, "Our concern is that there are still players involved that are trying to use Afghanistan's ground as a place for a proxy war. It is being carried out by certain state actors to fight their opponents." Several satellite phone conversations intercepted by Indian agencies in the past few months indicate that LeT is now deeply entrenched in Pakistani efforts to force India out of Afghanistan.
The location of the satellite phone in most of these conversations was established in areas adjoining the Kunar province along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Kunar is where LeT was first formed in the early 1990s. One such conversation, intercepted in the first week of February 2010 by the Research and Analysis Wing (R and AW), had terrorists talking about the need to hurt India in Kabul.
Meanwhile, LeT's expansion in Afghanistan has prompted suspicions in Washington that it is part of Pakistan's game plan to have proxy forces at hand when US troops begin their withdrawal in July 2011.
Significantly, India's Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken told Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) on April 27, 2010, that the LeT was also making concerted efforts to develop links in the Maldives and other neighbouring countries.
Similarly, Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of the US Pacific Command in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 27, 2010, stated that the LeT, predominately a threat to India, was fast expanding operations to other South Asian countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. On similar lines, US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, P. J. Crowley, asserted on April 23, 2010, "It (LeT) is a threat to our citizens.
It's a threat to Indian citizens. Next door, it's a threat to Pakistani citizens. And next door, it's a threat to Afghan citizens." A March 15, 2010, report had claimed that the LeT had identified as many as 320 targets across the globe, just 20 of which were in India.
At a Congressional hearing, US Congressman Gary Ackerman testified: "In the wake of the (26/11) Mumbai attack, investigators uncovered in controller records and e-mail accounts a list of 320 locations worldwide deemed by the LeT as possible targets for attack. Only 20 of the targets were located within India."
It is significant that the LeT has been banned in the UK since March 1, 2001. The US Department of State named the LeT as a foreign terrorist organisation on December 26, 2001. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) listed it as a terrorist organisation on May 2, 2005.
The US Department of Treasury named four of its leaders — Amir Hafiz Mohammed Saeed; Operations Commander Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi; Chief of Finance Haji Mohammad Ashraf; and fund collector Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq — under Executive Order 13224 which targets terrorists and those providing financial, technological or material support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.
Finally, in the aftermath of 26/11, the UNSC proscribed the JuD on December 10, 2008, listing it as an alias of the LeT, and designated Saeed, Lakhvi, Ashraf and Bahaziq as foreign terrorists.
None of these measures has had any impact on the Pakistani Government's attitude towards LeT. Despite volumes of evidence provided by India, progressive verification from a multiplicity of international sources, and Pakistan's own admission of LeT's involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Islamabad continues to support and protect its terrorist proxy, giving it full freedom of movement across Pakistan.
On February 4, 2010, the JuD and the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen (HM), held a Yakjaiti-e-Kashmir (Kashmir Solidarity) conference in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) capital Muzaffarabad, led by Syed Salahuddin, the chief of HM and chairman of the 16-party United Jihad Council (UJC). Another JuD rally, led by Hafiz Saeed, was organised at Lahore on February 5, 2010.
Each of these was a well attended mass rally, widely covered by the national and international media. State agencies made no effort to curtail the activities of these groups, despite the fact that several members of the UJC are designated international terrorist organisations.
Unsurprisingly, an April 16, 2010, UN report confirmed that the ISI continued to have close links with LeT and had used the terror group's services to foment anti-India passion in Kashmir and elsewhere. "The Pakistani military organised and supported the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan in 1996. Similar tactics were used in Kashmir against India after 1989," the report noted.
It is evident that LeT remains Pakistan's principal instrumentality in India. More significantly, its imprint is being steadily and systematically extended to wider theatres across the South Asian neighbourhood, to serve Pakistan's augmenting ambitions in anticipation of a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan.
US dependence on Pakistani 'cooperation' in the 'war on terror' has conferred near-complete impunity on Pakistani mischief in this region, and it is within the ambit of this latitude that Islamist extremist terrorism continues to thrive in Pakistan, to be exported into the neighbourhood and beyond.
(The writer is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management)
(Credit to author and his organisation mandatory/The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)