The IS puzzle in Karachi

Why would Islamic State want revenge for killing of Al Qaeda men?

The IS puzzle in Karachi
After a gun attack on American professor Debra Lobo in Karachi, the assailants left behind a leaflet that said she was “killed” to avenge the death of five “Mujahideen” in the city’s Keamari coastal town. Ms Lobo survived the attack.

“O crusaders, we are the lions of Islamic State [Daulah-e-Islamiya] and the eagles of our Caliph. Today we have killed this Kansas woman Lobo. We will continue to ambush you and attack you fiercely and kill you wherever you are until we besiege you to America and then God willing we will burn America down,” the printed note said.

This is not the first such case. The Middle East based IS has left its mark in Pakistan and Afghanistan several times in the recent past. On April 18, 33 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a terrorist attack in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, that President Ashraf Ghani said had been carried out by Islamic State militants.

But it is the first time that IS has claimed revenge for the killing of Al Qaeda men. The men were killed in a gunfight with Rangers on April 8. “One of the five militants killed in the recent Keamari encounter was the Karachi chief of the Al Qaeda,” said Major Sabtain, spokesman for Sindh Rangers.

Earlier reports said the militants killed in the Tapu area of the Keamari neighborhood belonged to Ilyas Kashmiri group. Kashmiri was a former SSG commando who became a militant in Kashmir, and later joined Al Qaeda.

The leaflet found at the site of the attack on Ms Lobo has raised a lot of eyebrows, but senior investigator Raja Umar Khattab, who handles terrorism related cases and heads the anti-terror unit of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) previously known as Crime Investigation Department (CID).

“Al Qaeda doesn’t claim small acts and this must be an attempt to dodge law enforcers,” he said. “The attack has similarities with four previous acts of terrorism, which later proved to be the handiwork of Al Qaeda.” He was referring to two attacks on Rangers and police, a motorcycle bombing outside a Bohra community mosque, and a grenade attack on a shop of a Bohra trader earlier this year.

The modus operandi and the weapons used in these attacks were similar, says Raja Umar Khattab.

Although experts don’t rule out strategic alliances between various militant groups despite their differences, police are not ready to believe the IS would seek revenge for the killing of a Al Qaeda operative.
Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent is a more serious threat than the distant Islamic State

Hasan Abdullah – an Islamabad based security analyst – said he was aware of “back-channel diplomacy” going on between the two groups, but was not convinced that the attack on the American citizen in Karachi was the work of IS. “First of all, there are contradictions in police accounts. Secondly there has been no claim of responsibility by the IS. If anything, the IS would be keen to claim its attacks, especially in the Urban centres of Pakistan,” says.

Security analysts and law enforcers believe that Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent is a more serious threat to the security of Pakistan than the distant Islamic State.

According to Umar Khattab, 90 percent of the Taliban militants in Karachi have been eliminated. But he admits the Al Qaeda threat must not be downplayed. “Today, the most active terrorist group in Karachi is Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent,” he said.

On April 13, days after the Rangers raid in Keamari, police found an explosives factory and killed five Al Qaeda militants during a raid in Orangi town. They said the dead men included the mastermind of the attack on a Rangers van at Qalandria Chowrangi last month.

According to Muhammad Arif Hanif, deputy inspector general of the Counter-terrorism Department, police seized a laptop which had video recording of the suicide attacker, identified as Arif alias Wahaj – a resident of Bilal Colony in Korangi, and a student of a prominent religious seminary in Karachi.

Evidence confirms the group had carried out several attacks, including bomb attacks near Qalandria Chowk on January 10, near DC Office (West) on February 3, and near Shahra-e-Noor Jehan on August 31, he said.

Al Qaeda may also be linked to attacks on police vans at Ibrahim Haideri and Bilawal Colony in 2013, and the assassinations of political workers Khursheed Pathan, Siraj Behari, Alam Mochar and Syed Zahir Shah, and a policeman identified as Razzaq.

But they did not claim responsibility for any of these attacks.

Analysts believe leaving leaflets with names of other groups may be an AQIS tactic to mislead investigators.