Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Terrorism: Behind the suicide bomb attack in Lahore

See also www.southasiaanalysis.org

At least 11 persons are reported to have been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a rented building of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan in the residential Model Town area of Lahore on the morning of March 8,2010. The large quantity of explosive used brought down the entire building.

2. This is the first terrorist attack in Lahore this year. Last year, there were five as follows:

15 October: Terrorists attacked offices of law enforcement agencies.
12 June: A prominent anti-Taliban cleric killed by a suicide bomber at his religious school
27 May: A car bomb attack on police buildings killed 23 persons.
30 March: Gunmen attacked a police academy, killing eight people
3 March: Gunmen killed six police guards in an ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team

3. The latest attack has taken place after an interval of about five months. There are two possibilities--- either it was carried out by the Terhrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to demonstrate that it still had the capability to attack targets in the non-tribal areas despite the losses suffered by it since the beginning of this year----including the reported but unconfirmed death of its Amir Hakimullah Mehsud after he was injured in a missile strike by a Drone (unmanned) plane of the US in January--- or it was carried out by the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) in retaliation for the reported death of its leader Qari Mohammad Zafar in a US Drone strike in North Waziristan on February 24,2010. The greater possibility is that the latest attack was carried out by a bomber of the LEJ, which has been operating jointly with the TTP and Al Qaeda and which has the capability for spectacular strikes in Lahore.

4. Police and FIA-connected targets and a target of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have been attacked in Lahore since the beginning of last year because of the terrorists' calculation that instability in Lahore could make the Army and the FIA go slow in their operations against the TTP and the Punjabi Taliban. The targeting of the FIA and the ISI in recent months is due to their being perceived by the TTP and the LEJ as working in close co-operation with the US intelligence agencies in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The FIA has also been in receipt of increasing assistance from the US for strengthening its counter-terrorism capability.

5. The Lahore attack came a day after sections of the Pakistani media had claimed that the Pakistani intelligence agencies had managed to arrest Adam Gadahn, the American convert to Islam, who heads the As-Sahab, the propaganda wing of Al Qaeda from a hide-out in a Pashtun inhabited area of Karachi where a large number of Mehsuds from South Waziristan live. Western sources have expressed skepticism about the correctness of the Pakistani claim.

6. If the Pakistani claim proves to be correct, this is a significant breakthrough in the fight against Al Qaeda. If the Pakistani authorities allow the US agencies to interrogate him, they could have fairly correct information regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. As mentioned by me in my note of February 22,2010 titled "Are Bin Laden & Zawahiri in Karachi?" available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers37/paper3681.html, "sources in Mr.Altaf Hussain's organisation are now alleging that not only leaders of the Afghan Taliban, but also many absconding elements of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, have shifted to Karachi from North Waziristan to escape the intensified Drone (unmanned planes) attacks by the USA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that they have been given shelter by their Pashtun sympathisers in Karachi. They further allege that the Pakistani authorities and some of the political leaders are aware of this."

7. There is no reason to believe that the Lahore attack might have been connected with Gadahn's claimed capture, but retaliatory attacks in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore are likely if it turns out that he has in fact been captured. Whether Gadahn has been captured in Karachi or not, there is a need for an intensified hunt to smoke out Al Qaeda leaders and members from Karachi. After Tora Bora in 2001-02, many of them including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and bin Laden himself had taken shelter in Karachi, but they ran away from Karachi after Ramzi Binalshib was captured.

8. If the capture of Gadahn in Karachi proves to be correct, there is bound to be panic in the terrorist hide-outs in Karachi and the others taking shelter there might flee back to the tribal areas or might try to escape to Yemen. Strong surveillance to prevent this is necessary. (8-3-10)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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