“As many as 80 hard-core militants are on the loose after being cleared by the courts or released on bail.” Friend and Ally Update. “Freed jihadis put Pakistan’s war on terror ‘back to square one’, say senior officers,” by Massoud Ansari and Gethin Chamberlain for the Telegraph:
Anti-terrorism forces in Pakistan have been told to brace themselves for a wave of atrocities. Intelligence officials warned that the security situation is now more precarious than it was before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Senior officers say they are “back to square one” in their fight against international terrorist groups after the release of dozens of militants by Pakistani courts. High-ranking police officials say that as many as 80 hard-core militants are on the loose after being cleared by the courts or released on bail.
They are believed to have been involved in crimes including the attempted assassination of President Pervez Musharraf and a suicide attack on the American consulate in Karachi.
A memo sent by Pakistan’s interior ministry to law enforcement agencies around the country warns of a plot to use suicide bombers to target Britons and Americans, including diplomats, in a coordinated campaign involving some of the country’s most notorious terrorist groups. The ministry warned that the bombers were also believed to be looking at high-profile individuals and military installations as potential
Last month, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, warned of the growing threat from within Pakistan. She said young British Muslims were being groomed to become suicide bombers and that most of the 1,600 suspects being tracked by her agents were British-born but linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
MI5 is reported to have compiled detailed dossiers on British Muslims travelling to jihadist training camps in Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan, the region where the United States believes Osama bin Laden is hiding. At least two of the British Muslims involved in the Tube and bus bombings in London on July 7 last year are known to have visited training camps in Pakistan.
Anti-terrorism officers in Pakistan say they are deeply alarmed by the security situation. “We are back to square one and the situation is more precarious than it was before 9/11,” one senior officer told The Sunday Telegraph. “They are planning more attacks. They have got huge backup. There are so many youths who are joining them. The old ones who are released from the prison are guiding and training the new cadres.”
The interior ministry memo warns: “We would like to direct all the concerned -security departments to tighten security around important personalities inside Pakistan, and to keep a constant eye on the movement of people who had previously provided shelter to militants linked to terror organisations.”
Counter-terrorism officials are aghast at the decision by the courts to free so many people suspected of involvement in attacks. Police say many have since disappeared off the radar of intelligence agencies and are believed to be planning to strike.
Among those released recently are Sohail Akhtar (aka Mustafa), the operational commander of the outlawed Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami group. He has been blamed for a campaign that included a suicide attack in Karachi in which 11 French engineers died, the suicide attack on the US consulate, and the failed attempt on the president’s life. Intelligence
officers say Mustafa “” who was initially sentenced to death before a court overturned the verdict “” is also believed to have travelled to Iraq to establish contact between al-Qaeda and terrorists there. His interrogators described him as “a terrorist genius”.
One official said: “He was the one who cobbled together all the jihadis, working under various organisations, by coining the slogan, ‘The ways should be different but the goal should be one’.”
Officials said they had intercepted jihadist manuals which Mustafa wrote while in the prison, in which he had set out precise instructions on how to carry out attacks and maintain security.
Other militants released by the courts include Fazal Karim, who is believed to have been present at the killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, and Qari Mohammed Anwar (also known as Abu Darada). Anwar was arrested at an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi along with Khalid al-Atash “” who is wanted by the FBI in connection with the USS Cole
bombings off Yemen “” and Ammar al-Balochi, who was allegedly involved earlier this year in a plot to attack Heathrow airport.
The government has called a meeting in Islamabad this week to discuss the release of militants. It may put forward a strategy to deter the courts from clearing suspects or releasing them on bail.
That would be nice.
But police admit that their own methods have contributed to the problem. A senior official said police had taken to producing false witnesses because members of the public were too scared to testify in court. In addition, officers did not have the modern forensic tools to gather evidence.