Several militant groups have claimed responsibility for the blast but none so far has been credible.
One of these was Jaish Mohammed (Mohammed's Army), a name previously associated with a group known to be active only in Chechnya and Dagestan, in Russia. It is curious that the claim of responsibility was received by phone by Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun, a London based militant group known for his ties with bin Laden.
However, in December 1999 Jordan arrested 13 suspects thought to be linked to Osama bin Laden's network and thus thwarted plans to carry out a series of attacks on Jordanian territory. The leader of the group, Khader Abu Ghoshar, and his 12 associates had received training in Afghanistan on the manufacture and handling of bombs. He set up a group called Jaish Mohammed, comprising veterans of the Afghan conflict, which was responsible for several explosions in Jordan. It is possible that this, rather than the Chechnyan group, is the Jaish Mohammed claiming the attack on the Cole.
US officials in Iraq have had talks with leaders of the anti-US insurgency, according to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
28 June 2005
US officials in Iraq have had talks with leaders of the anti-US insurgency, according to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr Rumsfeld spoke after London's Sunday Times newspaper said that two meetings had taken place north of Baghdad.
Speaking on Fox News, Mr Rumsfeld said the US regularly 'facilitates' meetings between Iraqi officials and rebels.
US officials have said that the Iraq insurgency is growing and Mr Rumsfeld admitted that the revolt could last up to a dozen years.
LONG FIGHT AHEAD
'Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years. Foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency,' Mr Rumsfeld said.
'We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency.'
More than 1,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been killed since the new government was installed in Iraq last April.
US President George Bush will make a prime-time address about Iraq tomorrow amid growing concern about the number of US casualties.
Quoting Iraqi sources, the Sunday Times said rebel commanders 'apparently came face to face' with four US officials during talks held on 3 and 13 Jun at a summer villa near Balad, about 60km north of Baghdad.
It said the insurgents included representatives of Ansar al-Sunna, which has carried out numerous suicide bombings, as well as lesser known groups such as Mohammed's Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq and Jaish Mohammed.
Mr Rumsfeld did not confirm any details of the talks and sought to downplay their significance.
'I would not make a big deal out of it,' he told Fox News.
'Meetings go on frequently with people. I think the attention to this is overblown.'
Meanwhile the Ansar al-Sunna has denied it was involved in any such contacts with US forces.
'We categorically deny that any negotiation took place between the Ansar al-Sunna Army and any crusader or apostate,' said a statement, supposedly from its leader, published on the internet.
TALKS WITH SUNNIS
Meanwhile, the US military commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, told CBS television that Iraqi politicians and the US have regular contacts with Iraq's Sunni Arab community.
'The Sunnis need to be part of the political future.
'This doesn't mean that we're talking to people like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (one of the insurgent leaders) or people that are linked to his organisation,' he added. - Wire services.
Key points • Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirms US talks with Iraqi insurgents • 41 people die in attacks across Iraq; 1000 deaths since April • Rumsfeld suggests insurgency could continue for as long as 12 years
Key quote "I would not make a big deal out of it. Meetings go on frequently with people. I think that the attention to this is overblown" - Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence
Story in full AMERICAN officials have held talks with the leaders of militant groups responsible for suicide attacks in Iraq, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed yesterday.
More than 1,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been killed since the new government was installed in April and yesterday saw a string of attacks in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul which killed a further 41 people, including two children.
The US government has come under increasing pressure at home over the continuing violence, and yesterday saw Mr Rumsfeld confirm what appeared to be a significant shift in policy, from the aggression of the assault on the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah in November last year, to diplomatic overtures to four terrorist groups.
However, he appeared to suggest little progress had been made when he warned that the insurgency could last for as long as 12 years and one of the militant groups yesterday denied it was involved in the meetings.
According to reports, four American officials "came face to face" with militant commanders from Ansar al-Sunna, which has carried out numerous suicide bombings, and several less well-known groups, such as Mohammed's Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq and Jaish Mohammed, during the talks held on 3 and 13 June at a summer villa near Balad, about 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Mr Rumsfeld refused to comment on the details and sought to downplay the significance of the talks, but confirmed contact had been made.
"I would not make a big deal out of it. Meetings go on frequently with people. I think that the attention to this is overblown," he said.
US officials dismissed suggestions that any "negotiations" had taken place, but Mr Rumsfeld said the motivation was to persuade the groups to stop fighting Coalition and Iraqi government forces.
"The first thing you want to do is split people off and get some people to be supportive."
Ansar al-Sunna, for its part, has denied it was involved in such contacts.
Mr Rumsfeld, addressing a question about whether US troops levels are adequate to defeat the militants, added: "We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.
"Coalition forces, foreign forces, are not going to repress that insurgency. We're going to create an environment in which the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win.
"There is no [Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh or [Chinese leader] Mao there. There's a Jordanian terrorist who's killing Iraqi people. There's no national movement in that country. They don't have a vision. They're losers, and they're going to lose."
The violence in Mosul began at 6:15am when a suicide bomber - who hid the explosives beneath watermelons in a pick-up truck - drove into Mosul's police headquarters, killing 13 police officers and two civilians. Six others were wounded in the explosion, which partially destroyed Bab al-Toob police station.
Less than two hours later, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car park outside an Iraqi army base on the outskirts of Mosul, killing 16 and wounding seven more.
A third attacker wearing a belt of explosives walked into Mosul Jumhouri Teaching Hospital at 2:15pm and blew himself up in a room for police officers guarding the facility, killing five policemen and wounding six others.
In Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed a US soldier and wounded two others in central Baghdad; a mortar round exploded at a house in eastern Baghdad's Baladiyat neighbourhood, killing a woman and two children; and gunmen killed a police colonel, Riyad Abdul Karim, at his apartment in the capital.
AL-QAEDA terrorists who have infiltrated Iraq from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have formed an alliance with former intelligence agents of Saddam Hussein to fight their common enemy, the American forces.
The alliance, known as Jaish Mohammed — the army of the prophet Mohammed — is believed to be responsible for increasingly sophisticated attacks on US soldiers. In the past four months it has smuggled millions of dollars, weapons and hundreds of Arab fighters across the desert border with Saudi Arabia.
Details of the alliance have emerged from Iraqi intelligence and US military sources, and from local supporters in a belt of restive Sunni Muslim towns to the west of Baghdad.
Influenced by Wahhabism — a fundamentalist strain of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia and by Osama Bin Laden — it represents a new force for Al-Qaeda in its holy war against the US. The group is led by a top Saudi Al-Qaeda officer, while most of the lieutenants and foot soldiers are Iraqis, who can move easily among the locals.
The Sunday Times has obtained the name of the leader but has been asked not to publish it for fear of jeopardising security operations. He does not direct every attack, but oversees training and ensures cells follow his commands about targets.The Saudi relies for planning, logistics and recruitment on two former Iraqi intelligence officials, including Mohammed al-Kudier, a former director of special operations in Saddam's Mukhabarat security service.
According to the sources, they run a training camp at Razaza, 30 miles from the town of Ramadi, at a former lakeside resort that Saddam turned into a base for army manoeuvres. Last Friday a driver was shot and killed on a nearby road.
The new threat to the Americans was disclosed yesterday as British troops in Iraq's second city of Basra came under attack from a mob complaining about petrol and power shortages in temperatures of 57C (135F). Three soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment were hit by stones but were not seriously injured.
Jaish Mohammed seems to analysts to be an improbable alliance. Al-Qaeda was formed by Bin Laden to drive American forces from Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest sites in Islam. Saddam's ruling Ba'ath party was deeply secular.
There was deep scepticism in the run-up to the war when the administration of President George Bush alleged that there were links between Saddam and Bin Laden, who directed the September 11 terror attacks.
But a different kind of co-operation is emerging in Iraq, driven by a mutual hatred of the West, particularly the Americans and British.
For the Arab foreigners in Jaish Mohammed, the alliance is a jihad, similar to that forged by Bin Laden and his allies to expel Soviet forces from Afghanistan. According to those who know them, the Iraqis have joined for a combination of religious and nationalist reasons.
The Saudi Al-Qaeda officer, who moves across the border but was believed to be in Iraq last week, is supported by wealthy Saudis rather than the Riyadh government. His Iraqi partners recruit from the pool of security and intelligence officers who are unemployed and embittered by their loss of status.
Recruits are selected for their religious tendencies and weapons skills. After vetting, they begin Al-Qaeda-style training, such as how to make remote-controlled bombs. They then stay in safe houses. "They are spread out so it's difficult to arrest them," said an Iraqi source. "When there is an operation they are brought to collection areas — either mosques or a training camp." Messages are passed by word of mouth.
Jaish Mohammed is the most dangerous of Iraq's diverse elements of resistance and its presence is increasingly potent.
On Thursday in the Karadeh area of Baghdad an American Humvee pulled up as it did daily on the main street, where the soldiers bought cold drinks. At 2.15pm, a remote-controlled bomb buried in a dirt square exploded, seriously injuring two soldiers and killing two Iraqis.
Foreign fighters were also suspected of organising Thursday's truck bomb attack on the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, which killed 19 people.
Yesterday America's top military officer said the continued incursion of foreign fighters into Iraq could lead to a diplomatic showdown between America and Iraq's neighbours.
"It's a serious issue," said General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. "We have to convince these countries surrounding Iraq that it is not a good idea to allow foreign fighters in."
The Americans confirm they believe Al-Qaeda is operating in Iraq. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator, said the military had found strong links between Al-Qaeda, other Iraqi groups and guerrilla attacks that have killed 55 US soldiers since Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1.
As the disturbances spread in Basra, British troops in riot gear struggled to control mobs burning tyres and attacking cars.
BAGHDAD — A shadowy group of Saddam Hussein loyalists calling itself al Awda, meaning "the Return," is forming an alliance with Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda for a full-scale uprising against the U.S.-led occupation in mid-July.
The information comes from leaflets circulating in Baghdad, as well as a series of extended interviews with a former official in Saddam's security services who held the rank of brigadier general.
Al Awda is aiming for a spectacular attack and uprising on or about July 17 to mark the anniversary of the Ba'athist revolution in 1968, the former general said.
The Islamists have indicated they are willing to join forces to battle the Americans, even though they dislike Saddam and his secular Ba'ath Party ideology.
A leaflet by Jaish Mohammed, one of two Islamist groups operating in Iraq, said it was willing to work with the Ba'athists despite Saddam's repression of Islamic fundamentalism.
The leaflet, obtained by The Washington Times, makes a direct appeal for former intelligence officers, security personnel, Fedayeen Saddam members, Republican Guard troops and Ba'ath Party members to join forces.
"The first act will be spectacular, possibly smashing an oil refinery near Baghdad," said the former general, who has been urged by al Awda to join the leadership of the planned anticoalition front.
The former officer said the effort goes well beyond the sporadic shootings in the past three weeks that have left at least 10 Americans dead.
Al Awda is well-financed, he said. It uses money stashed away by Saddam and his supporters well before the coalition's invasion, and its funds are enhanced by bank robberies and the removal of huge quantities of cash from the central bank early in the conflict.
The former officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he had agreed to join al Awda, though still may avoid full commitment, because "otherwise they'll come tomorrow and throw hand grenades into my house and at my wife and kids."
Among al Awda's membership were a considerable number of former Iraqi commandos and well-trained soldiers, who now had no jobs or prospects of employment, the informant said.
"The coalition pushed them into the Ba'athists' arms by disbanding the whole army and security services.
"That left these men with despair and hatred and so easy pickings for Ba'athists with money and propaganda," he said.
He claimed that his own growing contempt for the American occupation led him a week and a half ago to shoot a U.S. solider through the neck using a Russian-made sniper rifle.
He said he was the third-best sniper in the armed forces in his younger days and that he believed the American solider died.
Less-experienced fighters are being trained in guerrilla-warfare skills and assaults using abandoned buildings and remote locations, the informant said.
"At first, they were offering between $500 and $600 to anyone killing an American. Now it's up to 1 million dinars [more than $700]," he told The Times.
Copies of a handwritten, signed letter purported to have been composed by Saddam urging an uprising were scattered in several Baghdad neighborhoods yesterday.
The two main Sunni Muslim Islamist groups are Jaish Mohammed, or "Mohammed's Army," in the north, which began operating in Jordan even before the war, and Islamic Jihad in the west.
Each has similar commitment to the hard-line Wahhabi philosophy, originating in Saudi Arabia, that places them within the al Qaeda sphere.
One band from Jaish Mohammed was eliminated by U.S. troops through combined helicopter and land action, killing about 70 in an encampment on the Euphrates River last week.
From the camp, soldiers captured handwritten pages from lined notebooks showing diagrams to make bombs and grenades. The papers, seen by The Times, bear the slogan "Either victory or martyrdom."
They state that C-4 should be "mixed with RDX, half put into a can of [gasoline], and close it carefully." C-4 and RDX are plastic explosives.
For grenades, the instructions say, "Place nails inside to have a bigger explosive effect, and strongly tighten the lid."
Other scraps of paper urged fighters to change their names.
"Get ready to take action. ... You have to seize the chance to gain intelligence," it advised, and elsewhere added the warning "Beware of traitors and hypocrites."
That the Ba'athist al Awda has been wooing the Islamists in recent days is evident from some of the Islamic terminology it is using.
It is referring in its underground leaflets to al Awda fighters as mujahideen, a term used for Muslim rebels in Afghanistan and in other conflict zones.
The al Awda propaganda is venomously anti-Western.
"Teach your children to hate all foreigners," and "all foreigners are enemies," said leaflets distributed in Fallujah and other Ba'athist strongholds.
The Islamic groups have been spreading an even more vicious form of propaganda.
In attempting to demonize the coalition, its adherents have been calling L. Paul Bremer, the chief administrator, "Bremer Hussein" and using the slogan "One dictator goes, another dictator comes."
In a recent sermon in a Fallujah mosque that was packed with adherents and broadcast by loudspeakers to many more outside, a preacher demanded, "Fight the Americans. Don't deal with them. Don't shake hands with them. They are dirty."
The preacher added that Mr. Bremer was encouraging Jews to return and reclaim their houses, and any Arab businessman helping this process should be killed.
In Baghdad yesterday, a 12-year-old schoolboy asked his father if all Americans — as he had been told — were carriers of AIDS.
He said adults had told him this was evident from blood seemingly coming out of the ear of a female U.S. soldier who had visited the school.
A Western reporter saw a recent gathering at which men in Western garb sat in rows of white plastic chairs alongside others in white robes — another apparent sign that Ba'athists and Islamists were holding joint meetings.
The reporter was unable to hear what was said at the meeting, which took place in the yard of a home near Baghdad airport.
Both parties are portraying the uprising as a chance to regain the wealth of the country, its oil fields, from the American invaders.
They also are exploiting widespread resentment at U.S. forces' raids on private homes, where doors have been kicked in and women's rooms entered, and this week's stringent stop-and-search policy at roadblocks.
Few weapons have been found in these operations, locals say. So far, the uprising plans have been confined to Sunni Muslims and Ba'athist sympathizers.
"If they can persuade the Shi'ite Muslims to join in, the Americans will not be able to survive two months," said the former general.
The Shi'ites, who make up about 60 percent of the Iraqi population and have been treated the worst of all segments under the old regime, remain on the sidelines, he said.
"They are also resentful, but their masters have told them to wait — so far," the former general said.
By Syed Saleem Shahzad KARACHI - Two and a half years ago, Pakistan's most-wanted person, Asif Ramzi, was found dead, along with five others, following an explosion in a bombing-making factory in Korangi, a satellite district of the southern port city of Karachi.
Ramzi was wanted in connection with the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and the June 2002 bombing of the US consulate in Karachi.
This incident alerted the security agencies of both the US and Pakistan to the emergence of Korangi, as well as neighboring Landhi, as a new breeding ground for the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and consequently a new target in the "war on terror". The Landhi-Korangi area already had notoriety as a "no-go area".
The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is the militant offshoot of the banned Sunni sectarian group Sepah-i-Sahabah, which although not directly affiliated with al-Qaeda, its members have a kinship, as many of them trained together in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban in that country.
A road to terror From the bustling artery of Sharah-i-Faisal in Karachi, when a car turns at Gora Qabrustan (a Christian Cemetery of British India times) toward Korangi Road, the driver breathes a sigh of relief as a smooth, broad road offers a swift drive to the expressway that connects the southern districts to the central and eastern parts of the city.
However, this is just 15-minute ride. Before the expressway, one turns off into Korangi, a veritable ghetto where one can almost smell the fear and tension. By the time the sun goes down, gangs of armed youths have taken to the streets, where they rule until dawn - frequently letting off shots into the air to announce their presence and authority to officials, and the local population.
Welcome to the hunting grounds of Korangi and Landhi.
The discovery of Ramzi's bomb-making factory in Korangi in December 2002 has been followed by dozens of arrests of members of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi with connections to the area. In the most recent incident, a man identified as Tehseen was arrested in connection with a suicide attack on a Shi'ite mosque in Karachi in which several people were killed, including two of the attackers. Tehseen was injured when guards at the mosque fired at him. He is from an extremely poor family in Korangi.
Rooted in depravation Korangi and Landhi were established in the early 1960s for displaced families that had come from British India after the partition of 1947, and which were living in squatter settlements near founding-father Muhammad Ali Jinnah's mausoleum in the heart of the city.
Bureaucrats at the time were well versed in British ways - they knew the art to building colonies. Small housing units were set along a network of broad roads, complemented with schools, dispensaries, basic health units and playgrounds. The generation raised in the early 1960s in Korangi and Landhi was ambitious, and despite their poor background, many reached the top ladders of the corporate, social and sporting worlds, while others established themselves at lower and middle levels in government offices.
By the 1980s, though, Korangi and Landhi had changed. As people prospered, they shifted to better neighborhoods, and their cheap houses were filled by an altogether different community, including Bangladeshis, people from Myanmar and a huge Pashtun population. The latter worked as unskilled laborers in the industrial areas that had sprung up in the vicinity.
However, displaced families from India still made up the largest and most dominant component of Korangi and Landhi, which became the strongest pillar of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) when it was launched in 1985 in Karachi. The MQM was a national movement created to protect the rights of displaced families from India.
The MQM's militant wing established arms dumps, torture chambers and training centers in Landhi. This area was inaccessible to police and very well guarded by armed youths. No strangers were allowed in the area, which was called Mohajir Khail. (Mohajir means immigrant, from British India, and Khail is a Pashtun word which shows that, like the North West Frontier province's tribal areas, Mohajir Khail was also inaccessible to law-enforcing agencies.)
The MQM used Mohajir Khail to torture their political opponents belonging to the Pakistan Peoples' Party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, and other ethnic groups, such as the Pashtuns and Sindhis.
The Mohajir Khail was destroyed in 1993 by the Pakistani army, which also engineered a split in the MQM, leading to the formation of a faction led by Afaq Ahmed (now in jail). Subsequently, an army operation was conducted in the whole of Karachi, including Landhi and Korangi. The army arrested members of the MQM led by Altaf Hussain (who later went into exile in London to escape cases against him) and posted rangers in the area, but at the same time, the men in uniform patronized the faction of Ahmed. The cases against Hussain included killings, abductions, extortion, and burning the national flag. Now his party - renamed the Muttahida Quami Movement - is part of coalition governments in federal and provincial administrations.
As a result of the army action, the area became the hotbed of gang wars, where guns ruled and outsiders dared not enter. Every day, two or three bullet-riddled bodies would be found in gunny bags.
Religion, the poor man's addiction The mid-1990s saw severe economic depression in Landhi and Korangi, with markets closed for five days of the week. In job advertisements, companies clearly stated that candidates from Landhi and Korangi need not apply as they knew that because of the chaotic conditions in these areas workers would never be punctual. Schools and stadiums were occupied by the Pakistan Rangers, who often remained silent spectators as the gangs fought each other.
When the Taliban movement emerged in the mid-1990s, men from the Bangladeshi and Myanmarese populations in the area responded enthusiastically, as the clerics in their mosques were mostly pro-Taliban. Within a year, many men from both factions of the MQM joined different militant organizations, top of which was the Sepah-i-Sahabah. Thus, an already heavily militarized area due to its gang politics became a paradise for jihadis as well.
The banned Sepah-i-Sahabah was an anti-Shi'ite organization founded by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. It has been renamed Millat-i-Islamia. Sepah-i-Sahabah sermonized against the beliefs of Shi'ites but did not call for their massacre. However, when many Sepah-i-Sahabah heads were killed by Shi'ites (this still goes on - the most recent was Maulana Azam Tariq, a member of the National Assembly and a pro-President General Pervez Musharraf person) a breakaway faction called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which believes in the killing of Shi'ites, was formed by Riaz Basra. Basra was rounded up by Pakistani security agencies when he tried to enter Pakistan after the Taliban retreated in 2001. After an unannounced detention, he died in what is believed to be a stage-managed encounter with the authorities.
Since the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi was banned and most of its members were wanted, they left Pakistan and took refuge in Afghanistan during the Taliban's time. There they interacted with Arab Afghans. When the Taliban fell, they returned to Pakistan, bringing with them many Arab friends to whom they gave shelter and sanctuary. Later, they carried out several joint terror actions in Pakistan.
Amjad Farooqui, who was involved along with al-Qaeda's Abu Faraj al-Libbi in assassination attempts against Musharraf, was a leader in the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, as was Ramzi. Invariably, they all took sanctuary in the thickly populated areas of Korangi and Landhi.
US outsmarts all Since September 11, 2001, the US has invested millions of dollars in Pakistan to help track down al-Qaeda members and other terror suspects. Some of this money has gone to the Pakistani police, and some has been invested in a network of informers called Spider. But as long as no-go areas such as Landhi and Korangi existed, where police and rangers could not go freely, success was limited.
So US intelligence came up with a plan. It used the Altaf Hussain group's network in the MQM to counter jihadis and militants, leading to the arrest of many wanted people, to the extent that many militants have been rooted out from the area.
A case study This correspondent has interacted with many people from the Landhi and Korangi area, and one in particular stands out. Let's call him Akhtar, a man in his late 20s. He is not a militant, although circumstances conspired to push him in that direction, just like many who did turn out to be militants.
When Akhtar started going to his nearby mosque in Korangi four years ago, everybody in his family was happy that he had separated himself from the drug addicts and goons of the neighborhood, as well as from the ethnocentric parties of the area known for their terror, militancy and extortion. They were satisfied that Akhtar was now on the right path and would lead a straight life.
Akhtar grew a beard and insisted that he interact with all religious circles in the mosques. He was a tolerant human being, searching for pearls of virtue wherever he could find them.
However, after four years, during which time Akhtar's personality was molded and he became known for his piety and his tabiligi (preaching) activities, a police unit came looking for him, not to hear his wisdom, but to inform his family to hand over the "sectarian criminal" in a few days, or face the music. Akhtar happened to be out of town preaching at the time.
Akhtar met this correspondent through a friend, as he believed that newspapers were his last hope.
"Yes, Korangi and Landhi are two points where many suicide bombers and members of the Laskhar-i-Jhangvi stay, but you cannot write a story in isolation or without enumerating the causes which made this area with its destitute population a breeding ground for terror groups," Akhtar said.
"Our misfortune starts from our birth place, that is Landhi and Korangi, which became the nucleus of crime from the mid-1980s. Armed youths roamed around freely. Two military operations were conducted in the area, which gave a free hand to the police to rough up the whole population. They used to arrest criminals, but also innocent suspects, which they only let go after their poor families paid a bribe.
"That was the environment in which I grew up. My friends were either members of ethnocentric parties, as one could not survive without their association, or those who fell into drug addiction," said Akhtar. "The first time when I was picked up, I happened to have associated with members of a breakaway faction of the MQM, that is, the Afaq group. During interrogation, I was badly tortured. Later, the Afaq group's leaders secured my bail and I came out of jail. Now I was 'member' of the Afaq group.
"That is exactly the time when police and rangers were playing a game of hide and seek in Landhi and Korangi. Youths were put in police lockups without their cases being registered, and they were badly tortured. There was a time when the government crushed one faction of the MQM and patronized the other faction, and then the other way around. The youths changed their loyalties accordingly. In such an environment, two prominent groups emerged and attracted hundreds of youths who were tired of arrests and tortures. One is the banned Sepah-i-Sahab, and the other was the Jaish-i-Mohammed.
"Maulana Masood Azhar [chief of the now banned Jaish-i-Mohammed] quite often came to our neighborhood, with over a dozen armed guards. His speeches were truly impressive, but more impressive was his protocol and police security. Many disgruntled youths joined Jaish-i-Mohammed, and many joined Sepah-i-Sahabah. Some were inspired by their teaching, and some came in search of protection from police raids.
"I was neither in the Sepah-i-Sahabah nor in the Jaish. I was a peaceful talibligi [Muslim preacher]. However, since the leaders of these groups were regular visitors to the mosques in the area, I was a regular listener of their lectures, and in that way I was part of their circle and kept friendly ties and social interaction, but not as a member.
"After 9-11, the situation changed. All ethnocentric groups, which previously had been under official scrutiny, were given a respite, and organizations like the Sepah-i-Sahaban and the Jaish-i-Mohammed came under fire and were banned.
"Instead of neighborhoods, mosques and seminaries were the target, where police and intelligence officials carried out daily raids. As a result, all members of those banned organization went underground. Many stopped their activities, but several joined militancy in the name of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.
"The police game of extortion and bribery, played with members of the ethnocentric parties in the past, was now played with members of sectarian and jihadi organizations. In the past, all Mohajirs [immigrants from India] were culprits, whether they belonged to any party or not, but now all mosque-goers were guilty of terror.
"The law-enforcing agencies created a hellish situation. Many people who did not have the money to bribe their way out of trouble knew that they could be killed in a fake encounter [police have a reputation for extra-judiciary killings in which suspects are shot in what is officially termed as 'retaliatory fire'.] Therefore, many choose to become suicide bombers, because they know that either way their fate is death.
"There are people like myself who are suspects and who were given an option list by the police, including 'gentle' arrest and then freedom after paying a bribe - or else be ready for a 'fake encounter'. I am again standing at a crossroads, like I was some years back when I was detained as a suspect by the police and then my release was secured by an ethnocentric party. But in return I became a member. Now I have to either collect money to bribe corrupt police, or join a sectarian group to get a safe sanctuary to hide and then make myself mentally ready to be killed in police encounter, or in a suicide attack."
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at email@example.com