Zia Ur Rehman
Friday, October 09, 2015
Muhammad Owais Raheel, an electrical engineer, had been missing since September 11 when he left home for work in the Clifton neighbourhood of Karachi. His family members told a press conference at the press club on September 18 that law enforcement agencies had picked up Raheel because of his connection with the Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT). “My son was associated with the HuT, but his function was only to distribute pamphlets,” his father had told The News.
However, the Sindh Police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) announced on October 6 they had arrested Raheel for his alleged role in running the network of the HuT, a proscribed militant group, in affluent areas, including Clifton and Defence.
Mazhar Mashwani, a CTD officer, said suspects and his aides targeted young students from affluent families to recruit and turn them against the state.
Raheel is one amongst several HuT activists who have been allegedly picked up by law enforcers in recent months.
A HuT member claimed a number of their key leaders had already been in the custody of law enforcement agencies for several months. However, the group was facing a new crackdown in different parts of the country, especially Karachi, he told The News, requesting anonymity.
Intelligence officials said that after the emergence of cases of the involvement of youths studying in prestigious academic institutions in subversive activities, the outfit’s activities in the city’s middle-class neighborhoods had been on the radar of the law enforcement agencies.
HuT — a profile
The HuT has been active in the country’s urban areas since late 2000. However, since the arrest of Brigadier Ali Khan in May 2011, along with four other army officers for their alleged links with the HuT, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have been cracking down on the outfit.
The HuT is a global non-violent Islamist group. Founded in Jerusalem in 1953 by a religious cleric Taqiuddin an- Nabhani, the organisation is present in several European, Middle East and Central Asia countries. The United Kingdom (UK) is considered to be a main recruitment place for the HuT and its headquarters are believed to be located there.
In Pakistan, the HuT was formally founded in November 2000 although a number of Pakistanis had joined it in the preceding decades outside Pakistan, especially in the UK. While the HuT is a legally recognised group in the UK, the USA and several Muslim states, including the UAE, Lebanon, Yemen, Indonesia and Malaysia, it is banned in Egypt, Libya, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
On November 11, 2003 the interior ministry banned the HuT following their alleged links with a number of terrorist plots in Pakistan, including an attempt to assassinate then president Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2003, accusing the organisation of involvement in sectarian, militant and terrorist activities in the country.
The late global leader of the HuT, Abdul Qadeem Zallum from Palestine, considered Pakistan as an important future Islamic stronghold and a strategic base after the country went nuclear in 1999, according to various research reports.
Zallum asked HuT members of Pakistani origin to return to their home country where influencing the military and recruiting senior officers was the prime motive.
In Pakistan’s public and private universities, especially those in Karachi, students and teachers have regularly observed HuT activities, such as getting their mustard booklets printed in both English and Urdu languages, receiving their SMSs and emails and interactions with their cadres individually or in groups. Since the HuT in banned in Pakistan, the mainstream media is reluctant to give coverage to its activities. The HuT is therefore successfully using the internet as the main medium to spread its ideology and a wide range of publications, videos, e-copies of books and pamphlets are placed on their Urdu and English websites.
Naveed Butt, Imran Yousafzai and Shehzad Shiekh are key known leaders of the HuT’s Pakistan chapter, who are believed to have been detained by law enforcement agencies.
A few of leaders are allowed to show their identity and the group is organised in the small cells of five to six members, The News has learnt.
Financial support for the HuT to run operations in Pakistan mostly came from UK chapter of the group. They regularly distribute pamphlets and leaflets in middle- and upper-middle class residential areas and educational institutions of Karachi and other large cities.
The organisation was brought to Pakistan by Pakistani expatriates from relatively successful families living in the UK. “People were impressed to see that these young and educated Pakistani British were so committed to Islam that they came to Pakistan,” a teacher at the University of Karachi who is monitoring their activities, told The News. He claimed he had seen their publication ‘Nussrah’ in Urdu and English languages in the hands of a number of students on the campus.
Muhammad Amir Rana, head of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), said the HuT was an ideological group that fell somewhere between political Islamists and militants Islamists, with an anti-democratic and anti-constitutional outlook and agenda in Pakistan. “They are basically non-violent radicals but the key rationale behind the crackdown on the group is to stop their attempts to infiltrate the military, the academia and other private institutions, such as cellular companies,” Rana told The News.
A number of HuT members corroborated this observation and said the outfit primarily addressed the educated class and professionals such as journalists, teachers, bureaucrats, engineers and army officers. “Citizens hailing from these categories are in the best position to influence public opinion,” a HuT Karachi leader told The News in an earlier interview.
“We don’t focus on youths from the poor class as they cannot play a role in any Islamic revolution in the country,” he said. Rana said the fact that the HuT was banned by Pakistan and not the rest of the world aggravated the problem. However, a senior police official said international terror groups, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, had been recruiting educated youths from the upper-middle class, mostly who had already been associated with the HuT and other like-minded organisations.
“The law enforcement agencies have seriously been dealing with the threat of the new brand of militants in the country, who are gradually growing,” he said.