Sunday 11 October 2009

Pakistan ignored advance warning of GHQ attack

One of the terrorists killed by the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi

The threats made last week by Hakimullah Mahsud and other members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) at an impromptu press conference that they would attack the Pakistan government and carry out tit-for-tat attacks in response to US drone strikes appear to be coming to fruition.
In the last week we have seen the suicide bombing of the World Food Program headquarters in Islamabad (five dead), the bombing of a market in Peshawar that killed over 50 people and, most recently, the assault on the Pakistan Army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, that ended this morning when special forces commandos shot dead a suicide bomber holding dozens of hostages and killed or captured the other members of the 10-strong gang.
However, there are important differences to note about the Rawalpindi attack that highlight the growing role of Punjabis in the ranks of the TTP. One fact overlooked in the coverage of Hakimullah's press conference was that sitting at his right side amongst the tribal members of TTP was Qari Mohammad Zafar, leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the man behind the September 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad and March 2002 bombing of the US Consulate in Karachi.
It looks increasingly likely that the Rawalpindi operation was planned and carried out by one of the Punjabi groups. Already this year they have carried out the attack on the police training academy in Lahore on 3 March and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team a few weeks previously. The method used by the attackers - the use of fedayeen gunmen to kill any available targets and to take hostages until they were killed - rather than the detonation of suicide bombers - also shows remarkable similarities to the attack on Mumbai last November.
A claim has already been received for Saturday's attack in Rawalpindi by the Amjad Farooqi group of the TTP. This is in fact just another name for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. They and Jaish-e Mohammad both have their main powerbases in the southern Punjab, although more recently they have both been strengthening their relationships with the TTP. Their aim is to make the TTP into a regional franchise across Pakistan.
Farooqi himself was killed in 2004, but the leader of the Rawalpindi attackers, a former army medic and deserter named as Aqeel or Dr Usman, was involved in several attacks with Farooqi and is also believed to have been involved in the attacks in Lahore earlier this year.
The military and police in Pakistan both had clear warning of the Rawalpindi attack. On 5 October The News reported accurately: "Terrorist planning bloodshed in GHQ: May attack central building in military uniform". The story quoted a police report revealing that terrorists belonging to the TTP, in collaboration with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, were planning to attack the GHQ in Rawalpindi.
The report further warned that the terrorists were planning to make their way into the GHQ wearing military uniforms and riding a military vehicle. “Alternately, they may use a vehicle, which would be driven to the boundary wall of the GHQ where one of its portions is reportedly broken and they would jump into the compound by scaling/using a ladder. They may then move to the central building of the GHQ and resort to indiscriminate firing, which may result in bloodshed,” said the police report.
The News also reported that on 16 July the Punjab home department circulated an unambiguous warning quoting an unnamed “source” about the likely terrorist attack on the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army. The letter was classified “immediate, confidential, restricted, not to be circulated, source report”, and was signed by the additional secretary, internal security on a report of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the Punjab. Those who saw it included the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Punjab, the additional IGP, Special Branch, Punjab, and all divisional commissioners.
Copies also went to the Punjab chief secretary, intelligence officials, the ISI and sections of the army and air force.
This is not the first time that the Punjab CID has produced accurate advance information about a terrorist attack. In January this year they accurately warned the Punjab government about plans to target the Sri Lankan cricket team during its visit to Pakistan, which took place two months later. On that occasion the CID said that a terrorist attack would likely be carried out while the Sri Lankan team would be travelling “between the hotel and stadium or at hotel during their stay”. That is exactly what happened on 3 March.
Update: On Monday newly appointed TTP spokesman Azam Tariq claimed responsibility for the Rawalpindi attack and threatened more. "It was carried out by our Punjab unit," he said. "We will take revenge for our martyrs and will carry out more attacks, whether it's the GHQ or something bigger," he said. The same day another suicide bomber attack on an army convoy at Alpurai in Shangla to the east of the Swat Valley left more than 40 dead, most of them civilians.

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