Rise In Terrorism Heightens Threats During Muharram: Report

Rise In Terrorism Heightens Threats During Muharram: Report
The holy month of Muharram-ul-Haram began with terror attacks targeting law enforcers in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with law enforcers warning that the recent rise in attacks by terror groups poses a heightened risk for attacks on processions and congregations.

This has been disclosed by officials in the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), who have been assessing emerging threats.

The targets

As many as 10,000 processions and thousands of large and small congregations are expected to be held throughout Punjab this year.

This includes 659 processions in Sargodha, 485 in Multan, 481 in Jhang, 473 in Gujranwala and 457 in Lahore, followed by other districts.

Similarly, nearly 5,000 congregations are due to be held in Lahore, 2,404 in Sargodha, 2,027 in Rawalpindi, 1,934 in Layyah, 1,789 in Jhang, and 1,679 in Gujranwala, followed by other districts.

The Punjab CTD has identified 223 Imambargahs and congregation points, 168 processions and 105 religious personalities as sensitive.

Furthermore, field reports have identified some 645 potential flashpoints and hotspots across the province. Of these, 94 are in Muzaffargarh, 70 in Rawalpindi, 50 in Faisalabad, and 34 in Lahore, followed by other districts of Punjab.

"Elaborate contingency plans need to be prepared based on the optimum utilisation of available resources. The collection of actionable intelligence should be a vital element of overall security plans," the report prepared by CTD's research wing stated.

Terror threat

With an increase in terror incidents this year, especially high-profile attacks on military, paramilitary and police, the CTD warned that the threat posed is higher than in previous years.

A new dimension that CTD warned of was political chaos by terrorist organisations, whereby they could target political personalities as well.

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Furthermore, the CTD noted that these terrorist and violent extremists had enhanced their operational capability for targeting security forces and their infrastructure, such as target killing of intelligence agency officials in Khanewal, the suicide blast at Peshawar Police Lines and the storming of the Karachi Police Office among other attacks.

It added that in recent years, there has been activity associated with the proscribed extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) in Punjab with a grenade attack in Bahawalnagar that killed two people. There have also been sectarian target killings.

CTD maintained that in recent years, the LEJ has collaborated with several national and transnational terrorist organisations such as Baloch separatists, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Da'ish (Islamic State) respectively, which will increase the operational capability and funding of LEJ in carrying out terrorism and sectarian activities in Pakistan, particularly Punjab.

Based on threat alerts received this year, the CTD stated that Lahore, Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh and Bhakkar may be the most vulnerable districts in Punjab.

It further warned that facing resistance in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) was seeking to settle in Pakistan.

"This may cause an influx of trained terrorists into Pakistan and provide a battleground for regional terrorist organisations," CTD feared, adding that ISIL-K or Da'ish, has in recent times taken up sectarian targets, especially in Peshawar.

ISIL-K seeks to strengthen its capabilities by recruiting members from other terrorist groups as well as by attracting dissatisfied local ethnic minorities. Da'ish has footprints in Balochistan and has carried out major attacks in the province, including a suicide attack on Nawab Siraj Raisani in 2018 and on the shrine of Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, in February 2017.

Hostile intelligence agencies are fuelling terrorism

CTD claimed that hostile intelligence agencies (HIAs) were fueling terrorism in Pakistan through their proxies, such as the TTP (including splinters) and Baloch Sub Nationals (BSNs), by providing them with logistical and financial support.

TTP and its various splinter groups have become their main proponent for conducting terrorism in Pakistan, attacking security forces and their installations across Pakistan.

"It is strengthening itself by collaborating with splinter groups of terrorist/sectarian organisations and recruiting former members of proscribed organisations such as Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and LEJ," the report stated.

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The updated data of threat alerts received this year shows TTP as the most potent terrorist organisation.

Therefore, Muharram-ul-Haram, especially Ashura days, are highly sensitive to any terrorist activity by the sectarian/terrorist organisations targeting Muharram processions/gatherings and important Shia personalities in Punjab, CTD said.

The counter-terror department further expressed fears that separatist outfits have recently increased attacks on law enforcers, security forces and defence installations in Pakistan.

"These separatist groups have been carrying out terrorist activities in Balochistan but have widened their course of action to other provinces such as Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh," the report noted, adding that these outfits are collaborating with each other and other regional terrorist organisations for carrying out terrorist activities across the country.

Adding to this alarming trend is the emergence of female suicide bombers to achieve their targets is worrisome for law enforcers and the public at large.

Female suicide bombers have recently been used during attacks in Sindh and Balochistan.

The attack in Peshawar on Muharram 1, brought to life one CTD fear of attack on the day.

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The CTD added that the most threats with respect to sectarian conflicts have been from the TTP with eight, followed by LEJ and its splinters with five, Jamaatud Ahrar (JuA) with two and Da'ish with one.

According to the number of threats, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Attock, Bhakkar, Sargodha and Mianwali are the most vulnerable districts in Punjab.


The CTD has recommended running awareness campaigns to counter hate narratives along with stringent security measures by law enforcement and other security agencies to preemptively indicate and apprehend miscreants and terrorists.

The readiness of law enforcers needs to be tested through mock exercises at all levels.

Further, the relevant departments have been directed to enhance "cyber patrolling" of online forums to monitor for hate speech and violence-mongering.

Moreover, preemptive CT measures, contingency plans and provision of security to potential targets must be adopted for the peaceful progression and conclusion of the month of Muharram-ul-Haram.

- Strict security measures for Imambargahs, Majalis and processions during the month of Muharram-ul-Haram.
- Support of Ulema be solicited to maintain sectarian harmony.
- Divisional/district peace and inter-faith committees are established, and regular meetings are held.
- CTD and LEAs need to conduct IBOs and combing operations to thwart nefarious plans of miscreants.
- LEAs deployed on security duty must be sensitised and advised to ensure their own safety.
- Coordination and cooperation with sister intelligence agencies must be planned and executed when and where required.
- District police need to conduct maximum combing operations to flush out suspects from sensitive localities.
- Police/Lady Police and organisers to ensure checking of female members of congregations.
- Multiple checking points should be established to deter and apprehend the troublemakers and miscreants.
- Vulnerable personalities of both sects may be sensitised and advised preemptively.
- Private security guards or volunteers with verified backgrounds may also be deployed for the security of - Imambargahs and processions.
- Zero tolerance against misuse of loudspeakers by both sects must be ensured.
- No violation of route or timing by the organisers be allowed.
- No new majlis or procession without prior NOC be conducted at any cost, and any violation must not go unpunished.
- It must be ensured that non-Shia processions/congregations are not held in close proximity to Ahl-e-Tashi processions/majlis.
- Routes of processions/places of majlis to be technically swept and then sealed till the conclusion of procession/majlis.
- Clampdown against miscreants and proscribed persons (4th Schedulers) must be launched immediately.
- Surveillance of watch list persons must be carried out.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy.