Firebrand rebrand

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi resurfaces with a new name and even deadlier effect

Firebrand rebrand
If you say that you have eliminated a terrorist outfit but it strikes again—albeit under a new name—can you still claim you finished it off? Is this a case of Schrödinger’s Cat for terrorist outfits? Just days ago, the Punjab counter-terrorism department had declared it had taken care of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. But what do we make of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi claiming Monday’s attack on Quetta’s police training camp, killing 61 cadets?

Since 2014, Pakistan’s security establishment has cracked down on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and eliminated its leadership in Punjab. Its cadres have, in reaction, re-emerged with a new name ‘Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi’. This old trick works for militant groups when they want to dodge the state. It just becomes embarrassing for the authorities. Indeed, law enforcers had, in 2015, confidently stated that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had been eliminated after its chief, Malik Ishaq, and four leaders were killed in a controversial police encounter in July 2015.

The only problem is that the trouble did not stop there. The militia hit back and launched multiple strikes in less than three weeks of his death. It took revenge for Malik Ishaq’s death in August 2015 by killing Punjab’s active Home Minister Col. (r) Shuja Khanzada in Attock. Then this October, the LJA claimed responsibility for at least three attacks, in Quetta, Wah Cantt and Karachi, targeting Shias.

“The LeJ reorganised and nurtured a new leadership more than twice during the last few years,” explains Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies. “The killing of LJ leaders, including its founder Riaz Basra in 2002, provided a brief lull in sectarian killings.” But in 2004, a new wave started and it only receded in 2008 when its new leaders were killed. “Yet again, a sudden rise in sectarian killings was observed in 2010 when new leadership, including Asif Chotu and Naeem Bukhari, took over the group. This leadership proved more lethal. This is a new birth of the group and it can trigger a wave of sectarian violence.”

Perhaps there were already signs. The LJA claimed to be behind a number of sectarian attacks during Ashura but it was not clear if this rebranded militant organization had the capacity to launch bigger strikes. Monday’s attack dispelled any such impression with its scale and magnitude.

What is worse is that it purportedly carried out the attack in conjunction with Daesh, also known as the Islamic State. “We, along with Daesh (Dolat-e-Islamia) have jointly carried out this [Quetta] attack,” says the spokesman, who introduces himself as Ali bin Sufyan. The Daesh connection is what had become one of the main motivations, according to reports, for the authorities to go after LJA. But Quetta’s attack and the readiness with which Daesh took responsibility indicates that the state has probably not been able to prevent it from making inroads into Pakistan. If it is anything to go by, the Rawalpindi police had already recommended the Punjab Home Department and National Counter Terrorism Authority declare LJA defunct after the attack in Wah, according to sources in the Punjab government. This could not be independently verified and due to the sensitivity of the policy on this group, few officials were willing to go on the record.

It is hard to dismiss, however, internal reports that the Punjab was still worried about the LJA, as, according to sources, alerts were issued by the home department on a possible attack on Shias in Faisalabad. The group was named in the Nishtar Park attack and attacks on the FC and military in Quetta besides the Khurram Zaki case. It also appears that Balochistan was keeping tabs on it. The inspector-general of the Frontier Corps Balochistan, Maj. Gen. Sher Afgan, just said that the three LJA suicide bombers were receiving instructions from Afghanistan for Monday’s attack.


Structure and history

LJA has around six key leaders in its main shura (council) and is believed to rely on 300 hardcore followers, although the numbers are likely to be an exaggeration. Sources claim LJA is headed by a Syed Safdar also known as Yousaf Mansoor Khurasani. Khurasani apparently hails from Karachi is also wanted by the Karachi Police and Rangers for sectarian attacks. Many LJA members are said to be from the tribal areas and the group maintains a presence in Balochistan.

The difference between the LJA and LJ is that the former has been attacking security agencies. For example, sources in militant groups suggest the LJA was involved in the kidnapping of Col (r) Sultan Amir Tarrar alias Col Imam, ex-ISI officer Khalid Khawaja and journalist Asad Qureshi in March 2010. Imam and Khawaja were killed. Qureshi was released reportedly after paying a heavy amount through Fazl-ur Rehman Khalil, the current amir of Ansar-ul Ummah. After this, the first founder of LJA was killed during an internal fight with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in October 2010. The group then chose Yahya Afridi as its next commander but he was killed with four accomplices in Sada, Kurram Agency. After the killing of their third commander, the group selected Shaukat Mehsud from South Waziristan. But because of the operation there and some key arrests, the group went quiet. Sources claim that the current head of the defunct LJA, Khurasani, was selected as the amir after he was released from the custody of law-enforcement agencies.

The group has apparently formed four squads for each province. The group in Punjab is called the Riaz Basra Brigade, in Sindh the Aafia Siddiqui Brigade, the Baitullah Mehsud Brigade in KP and in Balochistan they have named it the Ghazi Abdul Rashid Brigade.

Azaz Syed is a correspondent with Geo TV @AzazSyed