Lashkar-e-Jhangvi ( LeJ ), a Sunni-Deobandi terrorist outfit was formed in 1996 by a break away group of radical sectarian extremists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni extremist outfit, which accused the parent organisation of deviating from the ideals of its slain co- founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. It is from Maulana Jhangvi that the LeJ derives its name. It was formed under the leadership of Akram Lahori and Riaz Basra. The LeJ is one of the two sectarian terrorist outfits proscribed on August 14, 2001, by President Pervez Musharraf.
Ideology and Objectives
The LeJ aims to transform Pakistan into a Sunni state, primarily through violent means. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is part of the broader Deoband movement
Leadership and Command Structure
Muhammad Ajmal alias Akram Lahori is reportedly the present Saalar-i-Aala (‘Commander-in-Chief’) of the LeJ. Lahori was originally with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which he had joined in 1990. Subsequently, in 1996, he along with Malik Ishaque and Riaz Basra founded the LeJ and launched terrorist activities in Punjab. He has also reportedly established a training camp in Sarobi, Afghanistan after securing support from the erstwhile Taliban regime there.
Lahori succeeded Riaz Basra, who was killed in Mailsi, Multan on May 14, 2002. Lahori is himself in police custody following his arrest in Orangi Town, Karachi, on June 17, 2002 based on information provided by Shabbir Ahmed––an LeJ cadre who arrested by Karachi police in Gulzar-i-Hijri on the same day. Police also recovered two Kalashnikovs and two TT pistols from the possession of Lahori, who was carrying head money of Rs five million announced by the Sindh government and another Rs five million announced by the Punjab government. Five accomplices of Lahori were also arrested on the same day. At his arrest, a senior member of the LeJ, Qari Ataur Rahman alias Naeem Bukhari, issued a press statement expressing the apprehension that Lahori might be killed in a “fake” encounter. Rahman was himself later arrested from his hideout in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Karachi. Rahman is allegedly involved in the abduction-cum-murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl. It is, however, not clear if Lahori has passed on the mantle to any one else, or continues to head the outfit while being in detention.
Lahori, according to reports of July 2, 2002 quoting senior police officials, was involved in 38 cases of sectarian killings in Sindh. These included the killing of Ehtishamuddin Haider, brother of Federal Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider, Pakistan State Oil Managing Director Shoukat Raza Mirza. Besides, he was also involved in the massacre at Imambargah Mehmoodabad and in the murder of Iranian cadets in Rawalpindi. Lahori reportedly confessed during interrogation that he was involved in 30 cases of sectarian killings in Punjab, including those of 24 persons who were attending a Majlis in Mominpura. Also he revealed that his group had planned to kill Interior Minister Moinuddin Hiader, but due to tight security measures, murdered his brother instead. Consequent to the death of Riaz Basra, Lahori was acting as LeJ chief and he himself reportedly monitored and perpetrated sectarian killings in Karachi where he was residing for the last one and a half years.
Lahori’s predecessor was Basra. He was involved in more than 300 terrorist incidents, including attacking Iranian missions, killing an Iranian diplomat Sadiq Ganji in December 1990 and targeting government officials. He was arrested and tried by a special court for Ganji’s killing, but escaped during trial in 1994 from police custody while being produced in court. He was Chief of the Khalid bin Walid unit of the Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
Media reports said Riaz Basra, along with three of his accomplices, was killed in an encounter on May 14, 2002. The encounter occurred at Dakota, which had been targeted twice in the past by the proscribed LeJ. Basra was allegedly in police custody in Faisalabad since January 2002 and was being interrogated for the activities of his group. According to reports quoting police sources, four armed terrorists came to Chak Kot Chaudhry Sher Mohammad Ghalvi on May 14 and stopped near the house of Chaudhry Fida Hussain Ghalvi, district chief of the banned Shia group Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP). Consequent to a shoot-out between the two groups the police intervened and in the ensuing encounter Basra and his associates were killed. Ghalvi asserted that the LeJ cadres had come to kill him and to emphasise his belief also pointed out that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had killed his brother, Mukhtar, in year 1997. Police sources said that Basra’s identity was established by one of his accomplices, Kashif, who is under detention for alleged involvement in another sectarian killing.
Consequent to Basra’s killing, reports on his arrest in January 2002 have indicated that he was arrested after the Faisalabad police captured Ajmal alias Sheikh Jamshaid, an associate of Basra. Ajmal assisted the police in arresting Liaquat Ali of Kehror Pucca, who was wanted for his alleged involvement in a triple murder case. After interrogating Liaquat, the police raided a number of locations in Faisalabad, Lahore, Jhang, Sargodha and certain other parts of Pakistan. Based on information received from Ajmal and Liaquat, Riaz Basra was arrested.
Basra is described as a religious fanatic with extraordinary enthusiasm. Motivated by the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and politically active since 1988, he contested elections to the provincial assembly from Lahore as an SSP nominee. It is under Basra’s leadership that the LeJ rose to become the most dreaded sectarian terrorist outfit in Pakistan. The intensity of its threat was such that Nawaz Sharief, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was served a threatening letter by Basra, stopped attending open courts.
The entire leadership of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi consists of Jehadis who fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. A majority of its cadres are drawn from the numerous Sunni madrassas (seminaries) in Pakistan.
Media reports indicate that the LeJ is an amalgam of loosely co-ordinated sub-units in various parts of Pakistan, particularly in the districts of Punjab with autonomous chiefs for each sub-unit. Riaz Basra reportedly controls the LeJ’s units in Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Sargodha. Another top LeJ terrorist, Malik Ishaque, currently under detention, was the chief of the units in Faisalabad, Multan and Bahawalpur divisions and in Bhakkar district. The success of most of its terrorist operations is attributed to its multi-cellular structure, whereby the outfit is divided into small groups that are not in constant contact with each other.
The LeJ is organized into small cells of approximately five to eight cadres each, who operate independently of the others. Individual LeJ cadres are reportedly unaware of the number of cells in existence similar to their own or the structure of operations. After carrying out an attack LeJ cadres often disperse and then reassemble at the various training camps to plan future operations.
A news report of October 2000 claimed that the LeJ had split into two factions––one headed by Riaz Basra (since deceased) and the other by the chief of the outfit’s Majlis-i-Shoora (Supreme Council), Qari Abdul Hai alias Qari Asadullah alias Talha. The split reportedly occurred due to differences between the two over resumption of ethnic strife, which had receded after the military coup in Pakistan in October 1999. While Basra favoured resumption of terrorist attacks against Shia targets in order to force the government to comply with the demands of the outfit, Talha opposed the plan as he reportedly felt it was suicidal not only for the organization but also for national solidarity. Talha based his opinion on the assumption that, with a military regime in power, any armed activity would invite stern action against the LeJ. Qari Hai was Basra’s lieutenant and ran the latter’s training camp in Sarobi, Afghanistan, until the two fell out and formed their own respective factions. While the majority of Hai’s supporters are Karachi-based, Basra’s cadres have their roots in the Punjab.
Basra figured on a US State Department list of terrorists who “live in or have lived in, have trained in, are headquartered in or financed from Afghanistan”. Riaz Basra, who escaped from police custody was wanted by Pakistani authorities in connection with sectarian terrorism, and had been described in the US State Department list as a “would be assassin” of the deposed Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharief. Basra was allegedly involved in a terrorist incident on January 3, 1999 in which a bridge on the Lahore-Raiwind road, close to Nawaz Sharif’s house, was blown up shortly before the then Prime Minister was due to pass by. Basra was also reportedly sighted at various places in Pakistan in the past five years, and Pakistani newspapers have often received messages purportedly sent by him claiming responsibility for certain sectarian terrorist attacks. Although police sources in Sargodha, on April 5, 1999, reported that he was killed in an encounter, his mother’s testimony and forensic tests have since disproved this.
Riaz Basra was allegedly permitted to escape from the annual Tableghi congregation in November 2000, in Raiwind. Reports indicate that security force personnel allowed Basra to escape fearing large-scale bloodshed if he were arrested at the congregation. Official sources point that Basra is adept at changing his appearance, and that he has a number of lookalikes within his ranks and on a number of occasions he has mistakenly been reported killed.
The outfit had suffered the loss of several of its top leaders and other cadres due to a crackdown initiated by the Nawaz Sharief administration in 1998.
Pakistani reports indicate that the active cadre strength of the LeJ is approximately 300. Most of these cadres are either under arrest in Pakistan or were based in the various training camps in Afghanistan, from where they regularly came to Pakistan to carry out terrorist activities. Media reports have also added that the outfit is never short of cadres, in spite of the large-scale arrests or the deaths of cadres in encounters. Media reports in September 2001 have indicated that the LeJ has been fielding newer cadres to evade arrests.
Two of the LeJ’s most important training centres are located in Muridke (Sheikhupura) and Kabirwal, in Khanewal district. It also has a training camp in Afghanistan located near the Sarobi Dam, Kabul. The present status of the camp is not known. Qari Asadullah, a top LeJ terrorist has reportedly been supervising and ensuring the training facilities of Pakistan-origin terrorists at this camp in collaboration with and support of the erstwhile Taliban regime. However, in the light of US attacks on Afghanistan, the fate of LeJ camps in that country is not immediately known. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi cadres are reportedly using police uniforms for their operations in order to secure easy access to mosques and for easy extrication after committing a terrorist act.
Media reports indicate that the occasional successes against the LeJ by the security agencies have forced the top leadership to remain underground. Rather than risk arrest by engaging in attacks themselves, they have begun training new recruits and directing operations.
Although SSP chief Maulana Azam Tariq has repeatedly dissociated himself publicly from the terrorist activities of the LeJ, security agencies and media reports indicate that the two outfits are closely linked to each other. For instance, when LeJ terrorist Sheikh Haq Nawaz Jhangvi was due to be hanged in February 2001 for terrorist offences, Maulana Tariq, instead of dissociating himself from the terrorist, led a campaign for the remission of his sentence and also offered diyat (blood money) to Iran. Sheikh Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, was hanged in the Mianwali Central Jail. Nawaz was 19 years old when he murdered the Iranian diplomat in Lahore on December 19, 1990. It took the courts and the authorities 11 years to decide his fate. During his trial he was kept at different jails in the Punjab. Prior to his hanging, the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed two review petitions filed by him against the death penalty.
Both the SSP and LeJ maintain that they are not organisationally linked. But, few analysts of the sectarian conflict in Pakistan believe this to be true. Their cadres come from the same madrassas as also a similar social milieu. The SSP leadership has never criticised the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi because the two organisations share the same sectarian belief system and worldview. They also have a similar charter of demands, which includes turning Pakistan into a Sunni state. Both the outfits have consistently resorted to violence and killings to press their demands, though the SSP has also been attempting to adopt a political path.
The SSP and LeJ have very close links with the Taliban militia. They assisted the Taliban in every way they can both in Afghanistan and within Pakistan. They have fought alongside the Taliban militia in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance. Besides, all three groups are closely linked in their fight against the Shias, be it in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. LeJ and SSP cadres reportedly played an active part in the massacres of Shias by the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Many hardcore LeJ terrorists were given sanctuary in Afghanistan by the erstwhile Taliban regime. The Taliban leadership had consistently refused to hand over 21 wanted Pakistani terrorists to Islamabad, saying the fugitives, belonging to the SSP and the LeJ, were not on their soil. Pakistani authorities, however, repeatedly emphasised that these terrorists continued to live in the Afghan capital, Kabul before the US attacks in Afghanistan commenced. The whereabouts of these Afghanistan-based LeJ terrorists, after the US launched attacks on Afghanistan, is not clear. Although the Taliban refused to acknowledge the presence of these terrorists, the Pakistani establishment pointed that they were enjoying its hospitality.
Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider visited Kabul and Kandahar in March 2001 and, among other things, discussed with the Taliban regime the extradition of Pakistani fugitives. The Taliban declined to sign an extradition treaty but promised to search and surrender them. At the time, topping the list of wanted persons was the then LeJ chief, Riaz Basra, who, like the others on the list carried a handsome reward on his head. In fact, official sources later said Basra had visited Karachi and southern Punjab during the year 2001 for medical treatment. The authorities also added that Basra had narrowly escaped arrest in the Punjab during his visit when he had stayed in Pakistan for almost six months.
Besides, Basra Zakiullah and present chief Lahori, too, figured on the list of most wanted persons. Official sources hold that LeJ terrorists frequently cross over into Pakistan from Afghanistan using unfrequented routes, commit bank robberies and sectarian-related killings.
Being part of the broader Deoband movement, the LeJ secured considerable assistance from other Deobandi outfits. It also has an effectual working relationship with other Deobandi political and terrorist outfits at a personal level, if not at the organisational level. In Afghanistan, they reportedly trained along with the Taliban and other Deobandi terrorists from Pakistan at the same training camps.
The LeJ is also reported to have links with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Pakistan-based terrorist outfit active in India’s Jammu and Kashmir. Many front ranking LeJ terrorists are have reportedly received training at HuM camps in Afghanistan. According to a media report, many LeJ cadres secured training at the HuM’s Khalid Bin Waleed camp in Afghanistan. According to the same report, the standard training period consists of 4-8 weeks during which the trainees are provided extensive training in handling sophisticated small arms, assembling and handling of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), other varieties of explosives, as well as in hit-and-run tactics.
The LeJ also maintains links with another Pakistan-based terrorist outfit, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Jaish Chief Maulana Masood Azhar reportedly wanted to name his outfit Lashkar-e-Muhammad but was ‘advised’ to avoid the association with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Reports hold that the LeJ has been securing financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. Evidence of private Arab funding was disclosed with the arrest of several LeJ cadres responsible for the May 1997 killing of Ashraf Marth, a senior Police officer who had arrested the killers of Agha Mohammed Ali Rahimi, the Iranian Cultural Attaché in Multan. A substantial portion of LeJ’s funding is reportedly derived from wealthy benefactors in Karachi, Pakistan.
Activities and Incidents
The LeJ’s chief area of operation is within Pakistan, where it has admitted responsibility for numerous massacres of Shias and targeted killings of Shia religious and community leaders.
More than 70 doctors and 34 lawyers, various Ulema (religious scholars), teachers and students of seminaries, politico-religious parties leaders and activists, officials of various government and private institutions have been assassinated between June 2000 and June 2002 in Pakistan by the SSP and the LeJ. All of them were Shias.
The LeJ has also carried out numerous attacks against Iranian interests and Iranian nationals in Pakistan. The outfit uses terror tactics with the aim of forcing the Pakistani State into accepting its narrow interpretations of Sunni sectarian doctrines as official doctrines. The victims of its terror tactics have been leaders and workers of rival Shia outfits, bureaucrats, policemen, and worshippers of the ‘other’ sect. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is widely considered to be the most secretive sectarian terrorist outfit in Pakistan. It has never exposed itself to the Pakistani public or media. The only means of exposure is through the fax messages and press releases it sends to newspaper offices claiming responsibility for an act of terrorism.
In 1999, the LeJ, in a press release, offered a reward of 135 million Pakistani rupees for anyone who would undertake the killing of Nawaz Sharief, the then Prime Minister; Shabaz Sharief, his younger brother and the then Chief Minister of Punjab, and Mushahid Hussein, the then Information Minister. An attempt was, indeed, made on the life of Nawaz Sharief when a bomb exploded and destroyed a bridge between Lahore and Raiwind, barely an hour before he was to pass by on January 2, 1999.
The LeJ reportedly also uses rafts across the Attock River for shipping arms and ammunition from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) into Punjab. The new modus operandi was chosen to hoodwink the authorities after permanent pickets were set up by the Punjab police on all land routes coming into the Province from the NWFP, in addition to intensifying patrolling along all such routes. Earlier, the LeJ had been using two bridges, one near Taunsa and another near Bhakkar, to transport arms and ammunition.
The LeJ is currently reported to be finding it hard to execute terrorist strikes because it has become difficult to smuggle arms into Punjab and also due to the differences between Riaz Basra and Qari Asadullah.
In October 1997, a Pakistani news report quoted Malik Ishaque, a top LeJ terrorist currently under detention, as saying, “I have been instrumental in the killing of 102 human beings.”
The LeJ was responsible for the Lahore Mominpura Cemetery massacre on January 11, 1998, in which 25 Shia Muslims were killed and 50 others injured. Most of the victims were women and children who had gathered for Qur’an-Khwani (Quranic recital) at the cemetery. Aziz Gujar, Haroon Mansoor, Riaz Basra and Akram Lahori were the main accused in this massacre. While the first two were arrested, Basra and Lahori evaded arrest.
Acting upon information secured from LeJ chief Lahori and Rahman, both of who are now under detention, police recovered 134 Kalashnikov rifles, rockets, landmines, explosives, chemicals, and poison-filled capsules. Karachi Police have also arrested the wife and a son of Lahori. Lahori was also taken to Punjab and, based on his information, police and agents of US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided various places and arrested several suspected terrorists.
The Sindh government on October 15, 2001 announced head money for the arrest of 12 proclaimed offenders involved in heinous sectarian terrorist attacks. According to the announcement, seven absconders belong to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi while five are activists of another proscribed terrorist outfit, the Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP). The Sindh government announced Rs 1 million cash reward for each of the three Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists, Qari Abdul Hai alias Qari Asad alias Talha, resident of District Alipur, Muzaffargar; Atta-ur-Rehman alias Nadeem Bukhari, resident of Paposh Nagar, Karachi, and Asif Ramzi, resident of Karachi. Half a million rupees cash reward each was fixed for another three LeJ cadres – Asif Ramzi alias Chotto alias Hafiz, resident of Muhammad Nagar, Karachi; Muhammad Rashid; and Lal Muhammad alias Lal Bhai alias Faqeer, resident of Orangi Town, Karachi. Rs 0.25 million cash reward was fixed for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi cadre Muhammad Umer alias Haji Sahib, resident of Shah Faisal Colony, Karachi.
Karachi Police on June 29 published photos of 10 terrorists wanted in connection with the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl and for the two car-bomb attacks on Western targets in Karachi. At least 16 persons, including 12 French nationals, were killed and 26 persons injured in a bomb blast in Karachi on May 8, 2002. In the second attack, near the US Consulate in Karachi on June 14, 12 persons were killed. At least five of the 10 terrorists identified are believed to be LeJ cadres. It was also the first occasion that police identified LeJ as being involved in all the three incidents. One of the photographed men, Asif Ramzi, is listed as wanted in the Pearl murder case and also for sectarian killings, with a three million rupees-reward offered for his capture. Another suspect, Naveedul Hassan, is listed as wanted in the June 14 terrorist incident and his capture carries two million rupee-award. Sharib is listed as wanted in both the Consulate-attack and the May 8-attack.
According to senior investigators, the Al Qaeda network is suspected to have worked with LeJ cadres to plan both the car-bomb attacks. Intelligence sources have indicated that certain LeJ terrorists arrested in Karachi in June 2002 have been allegedly working with the Al Qaeda to strike at targets in Pakistan.