The Al Qaeda footprint

The global terrorist group is reemerging in Karachi with small hit-and-run attacks

The Al Qaeda footprint
When the Sindh Rangers were planning a law-enforcement raid on the MQM office in Karachi earlier this month, three policemen were killed and two wounded in two brazen attacks less than five kilometers from their headquarters.

A head constable was killed and a constable injured in a shooting at Pakistan Chowk, and minutes later, an assistant subinspector and a head constable were shot dead and a constable wounded near Rimpa Plaza on MA Jinnah Road.

Two people belonging to the Bohra community were killed and at least 12 others were hurt by a motorcycle bomb that went off when they were coming out of Saleh Mosque at the same Pakistan Chowk on March 20, about ten days later.

The same evening, a suicide attacker targeted a Rangers patrol van near Qalandria Chowk, killing two soldiers and injuring another.

“The material and the pattern of these attacks indicate a likely Al Qaeda involvement,” said a senior superintendent (SSP) at the Sindh police’s Counter-Terrorism Department, Raja Umar Khattab.
Al Qaeda is being run by "a group of over a dozen operatives from universities across Karachi"

“The forensic reports of these incidents confirm that a single group, Al Qaeda, was behind these hit-and-run attacks,” a senior investigator said. The bullet shells found at the crime scenes connect the attacks to previous Al Qaeda attacks in which similar ammunition was used.

On March 4, two people died and four were wounded when armed men attacked a shop run by a trader belonging to the Bohra community in the Bahadurabad locality. A note found at the site said the international terrorist group was waging a war against the armed forces and would continue to attack media and members of pro-army sects.

Karim Hashmi, who belonged to Dawoodi Bohra Community and was a manager at a local factory, was killed near Hyderi Market in the North Nazimabad neighborhood on 18th February. Two days later, police arrested a suspect, who they say turned out to be a member of Al Qaeda. Other suspects, said the police, admitted to having killed more than nine people including police officials in various parts of Karachi.

“Since they can’t carry out any major attacks such as that on the Navy dockyard last year, they leave their footprint in smaller attacks every once in a while,” a police official said. The group has had operational assistance from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Jundullah, but now its own young recruits from the across the city are also carrying out terrorists attacks, he said.

According to Umar Khattab, Al Qaeda is being run in Karachi by “a group of over a dozen operatives from universities across the city”, that attacks police and lately the people of the Bohra community every now and then. “They live in affluent neighborhoods of the city and are hard to monitor.” He said the group was aiming to recruit new operatives from the student of wing of a religious political party, which he did not name.

Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi-based journalist who covers militancy, believes that Al Qaeda and Taliban recruitment from Karachi is an underreported phenomenon. “While the recruit pool in the tribal areas is largely uneducated, Karachi offers a very different dynamic,” he says. “It is recognized for its academic institutions as well as religious seminaries.” The defection of members of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba should be seen as individual acts of dissent, he says, and party officials have dissociated themselves from their former members who joined militant groups.

“People from Jamaat-e-Islami have joined the PPP and the PML-N too,” says Abdul Razaq, the emir of JI in the troubled West district. “They can go anywhere. Once they stop following JI’s policy of a democratic struggle, they have no relation with the party. Like many other pro and anti Jihad activists, even Husain Haqqani was once a member of the IJT.”

Police officials say many new Al Qaeda recruits come from affluent backgrounds. “Who would have thought a high profile militant will be raised in the home of a top cop,” said one officer, referring to Awais Jakhrani, son of additional inspector general Ali Sher Jakharni, who was involved in the navy dockyard attack.

Security officials inspect the site of a suicide attack on a Rangers patrol vehicle on March 20
Security officials inspect the site of a suicide attack on a Rangers patrol vehicle on March 20

“The challenge in dealing with groups like Al Qaeda is their asymmetrical approach to war,” says Hasan Abdullah, a security analyst who has worked extensively on Pakistani militant groups. “Their sleeper cells and the silent process of indoctrination of highly skilled professionals poses a grave threat. On top of that, most states have failed to come up with a counter-narrative to deal with such groups.”

Raja Umar Khattab says we need a three-pronged strategy to deal with Al Qaeda in Karachi. “First, we will have to reverse what has happened over the last three decades,” he says. “That will require at least half of the time that was spent on propagating the ideology.” An active counter-terrorism policy and the rehabilitation of those who decide to lay down arms should also happen simultaneously, he adds.