by Zia Ur Rehman

Jan 6-12, 2011

Law enforcement agencies have found several small previously-unknown militant organisations operating in Karachi, during recent crackdowns. Most of them are linked to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

“Militants linked with the TTP are increasingly moving to Karachi because of military operations and US drone strikes in the tribal areas,” said Chaudry Aslam, head of the Anti-Extremism Cell (AEC) at CID Karachi. They get logistics and manpower support from the militant organizations already established in the city.

Such groups include the Punjabi Taliban, the Al Mukhtar group, Kharooj, Al Furqan, Badar Mansoor Group and Jundullah – all discovered within the past year.

“All such little-known militant outfits are linked with the TTP,” Aslam told TFT. “It is TTP’s strategy to operate in Karachi in smaller cells to dodge law enforcement agencies for longer. The cells are so small and so scattered, they are only discovered when law enforcement agencies arrest their members.”

Experts working on militancy related issues believe that Taliban splinter groups typically arise in two ways. “Some leaders abandon their groups to form their own outfits and develop direct links with the TTP and Al Qaeda,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). “In other cases, new and very small operational cells are set up to carry out activities in a specific geographical location.”

The CID discovered the Al Mukhtar group in an April 26 raid by arresting a suspected key leader allegedly involved in a bomb blast in an illegal gambling den in Ghas Mandi area on April 21. The attack killed 22 people and injured dozen others. Recently, the CID has claimed to have arrested the group’s Karachi head Asghar alias Umer, along with five other alleged militants.
“Al Mukhtar group is basically a splinter cell of TTP’s Badar Mansoor group deployed especially to Karachi,” Aslam said. “Its main function is to collect extortion money, and carry out bank heists, abductions for ransom and terrorist attacks.”

Punjabi Taliban, another little-known militant outfit, mainly consists of students of Karachi’s academic institutions, especially Karachi University (KU). The group was discovered after a bomb blast in KU on December 28, 2010 that injured four students of Shia group Imamia Students Organisation. Three Punjabi Taliban militants including its Karachi head Qari Shahid were killed on December 5 when police raided a house during the successful rescue of kidnapped local industrialist Riaz Chinoy. The CID arrested two members of the group on December 13 and recovered a hitlist with the names of more than 100 public figures. The militants were demanding Rs70 million in ransom, but came down to Rs20 million after negotiations, according to media reports.

Qari Shahid’s wife Sabiha Karim, an active member of the group, was also arrested. She confessed her group was involved in four major attacks in Karachi – the May 22 attack on the PNS Mehran, the November 11, 2010 CID attack, the December 2010 bomb blast at KU, and the February 2011 Chehlum blast, said a senior Police official.

“Punjabi Taliban was formed in 2007 by former operatives of Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), a sister organisation of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), after a disagreement with the JI leadership over ‘Jihad’, said a KU professor who is monitoring their activities on the campus. He said the men were inspired by Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed, and were resultantly expelled from the IJT.

Qari Shahid had a Masters degree in Political Science from KU and was affiliated with IJT when he was a student.

TTP-linked jihadi outfits and the banned Hizbut Tehrir are very active in Karachi’s academic institutions. They try to attract IJT members with Jihadi literature and using other means, a former IJT activist in KU told TFT.

He said there was no information about the size of the Punjabi Taliban, many of their members – including Zohair Imtiaz Kudwai, Omair Imtiaz Kudwai, Azib Imtiaz Kudwai, Misbah Usmani, Mohammad Shabbir and Imran Nazeer – were killed in drone attacks in the tribal areas.

“Their alleged objectives include fighting against Pakistan’s security forces and supporting the outlawed TTP.”

Chaudhry Aslam said the Punjabi Taliban group was also involved recruiting young boys for training of suicide bombing in Waziristan. On June 26, the CID arrested Abdul Razzaq alias Omar and Rashid Iqbal alias Basit, two members of Punjabi Taliban assigned that task. They sent six teenage boys to Waziristan in 2009. Four of them were killed in a drone attack on the training camp, and the other two were sent back to Karachi. They were also arrested.

Kharooj, another previously unknown group operating in Karachi, has also been recruiting young people, especially students, a CID officer told TFT, asking not to be identified. The group’s leaders are hardcore militants who had separated from the TTP after disagreements with its leadership.

Many of these groups are facing severe shortages of funds after the government’s moves to cut off their foreign sources of funding, according to Aslam, and that is why there has been a surge in bank robberies and abductions for ransom. At least 18 banks were robbed in 2011, with a total of more than Rs60 million stolen, according to news reports.

A TTP leader from the Mehsud area of South Waziristan said militants from tribal areas usually head to Karachi to seek shelter, for rest and recuperation, for medical treatment, and to receive funding.

Although backed by the TTP with money and manpower, these groups are made up of ‘locals’, he said. A majority of them Urdu and Punjabi speaking youth formerly associated with the IJT or various Jihadi groups.

Security experts believe smaller groups have better chances of survival as crackdowns by law enforcement agencies increase. Chaudhry Aslam claims he has broken their network by arresting their key leaders.