Information that seems authoritative on Al Qaeda is so rare that when any article appears with details we peruse it with great care. Here is an article worth perusing from the The Friday Times, written by Ali Chishti, that tells us about Al Qaeda’s activities in Karachi; also, about the measures taken by the Pakistani government to apprehend them. I reproduce the main elements of the article here because the magazine is relatively unknown in the West even though it is a great source of information on South Asia. Thanks to a friend for making this available to me. [http://www.thefridaytimes.com/graphics/alpha1/o.jpg]
On May, 2, 2003 a plot by Al Qaeda to crash a small aircraft loaded with explosives into the US Consulate in Karachi was uncovered after the arrest of Walid Ba’Attash who played a significant role in planning the September 11 attacks. By late 2001, Al Qaeda fighters started infiltration into Pakistan and made Karachi their base. Their modus-operandi was simple but elaborate. Local jehadi organizations were instructed to rent apartments across Karachi at least two months in advance and wait. They came in one by one, and it took the Al Qaeda’s top echelons 15 to 20 days to occupy an apartment. By 2002 Al Qaeda re-established itself and made Karachi the centre of its activities.
Al Qaeda selected Karachi as its springboard because Karachi was known for its ethnic and sectarian violence, which made it prone to terrorism. With the arrival of Al Qaeda, a new dimension was added to worsening law and order problems – the culture of suicide bombing.
The suicide bombing of French Naval workers in Karachi in May 2002 came as a surprise to many and was officially the start of Al Qaeda operations in Karachi. It was also the first time a local jehadi group, Harkat ul Mujahideen al Almi, was used for logistics while the suicide bomber was an Al Qaeda operative. President Musharraf and the US consulate were targeted later in June 2002 in Karachi. By September 2002 Pakistan had extradited 422 Al Qaeda members, 86 of which were caught from Karachi alone. The first major breakthrough was the arrest of Ramzi Al Shaibah in Karachi who once worked for the Hamburg Cell of Al Qaeda.
Sheikh Khalid Muhammad (SKM), Al Qaeda’s operational chief by 2002 had formed a close operational link with Lashkar e Jhangvi and ran Al Qaeda from flats in the posh areas such as DHA and Bahadarabad Society. The news about the location of SKM came in June 2002 when Al Jazeera anchor Yosri Fouda received an invitation from Al Qaeda to conduct an interview in Karachi where he met both SKM and Ramzi bin Al Shaibah. Finally in January 2003, Jack Thomas, an Australian Al Qaeda fugitive, was captured in Karachi and gave ‘actionable intelligence’ on the whereabouts of SKM who was finally caught from Rawalpindi in March 2003 but it was too late by then. By 2003, SKM with Sheikh Omar had beheaded Daniel Pearl and established a strong nexus with the local sectarian groups working in Karachi. Lashkar e Jhangvi turned into Al Qaeda’s team B and transformed into Jundallah.
Jundallah’s Karachi chapter was founded originally by a Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) student activist, Attaur Rehman, in 2003. Jundullah was initially a well-knit cell comprising 20 militants, most of them in their twenties and thirties, educated from professional classes. Jundallah attacked Karachi Corps Commander General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, bombed a US Consulate and carried out a series of terrorist attacks, including last year’s triple bombings in an Ashura procession in Karachi.
In March 2004, the Karachi police arrested brothers, Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed, linked to JI who were suspected of assisting wanted militants to escape from the authorities and providing medical treatment to three fugitives Abu Massab, Gul Hasan and Qassam Al Sani, who were wounded in the attempt on Gen Hayat. The Waheed brothers were sentenced in 2005 to 7 years imprisonment but were later acquitted. Following his acquittal Dr Arshad Waheed shifted his activity to South Waziristan and was running a clinic in Wana, FATA region until a US missile drone killed him. Al Qaeda’s media wing, Al Sahab Media Foundation, released the third part of a series of videos entitled “The Protectors of the Sanctuary” in memory of Dr Arshad Waheed confirming his association with Al Qaeda. This was also the first time Al Qaeda had used Urdu instead of Arabic which was significant in confirming doubts that Al Qaeda had indeed turned “desi”.
In Karachi, Al Qaeda remains the biggest mastermind and financier of terrorism where the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, Qari Zafar Group) with its huge Mehsud population based in the outskirts of Karachi provides logistical support and suicide bombers. The operational aspects are entirely outsourced to sectarian-terrorist groups such as Jundallah.
While it is important to understand that Al Qaeda has successfully merged with the local jehadi organizations, it should be noted that Al Qaeda is constantly shifting its base from North Waziristan to urban areas of Pakistan to avoid drone attacks. The central thesis of Al Qaeda’s philosophy is to create “fitna”. Al Qaeda spreads fitna with the help of Lashkar e Jhangvi, by attacking MQM’s legislator Raza Haider to create anarchy, or more strategically abetting the 26/11 Mumbai attacks with manufactured Frankensteins to help its main ally, the TTP. Al Qaeda’s plan in Karachi is to exploit the sectarian and ethnic conflicts, create a trap for the Pakistan Army in the commercial capital, and disrupt NATO supplies. Karachi with such a strong base of Al Qaeda remains the most dangerous and venerable cities in the world.
Ali Chishti is a writer based in Karachi. He can be reached at email@example.com