Monday 4 October 2010

Another falling out between the 'brothers'

More fallout from the kidnapping of two former members of the ISI and British-born Pakistani journalist Asad Qureshi and his driver in March this year. On Sunday morning the body of Sabir Mahsud was found in the main market of the Razmuk area of North Waziristan. A letter on his body signed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan said that he was the leader of the Asian Tigers, the group that abducted the four men in March and later killed one of them, Khalid Khwaja. The letter said that Mahsud's killing was in revenge for Khwaja's death.
Mahsud became leader of the Asian Tigers - believed to be an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - at the end of August following an internal feud within the group over an Arab widow (see my blogpost on this incident) that led to at least seven deaths. Until he was killed in that shootout by Mahsud and his supporters, the leader of the Asian Tigers had been Usman Punjabi. Sabir Mahsud is a former member of the TTP, but he was expelled for criminal activities.
Khwaja, the former airforce and ISI officer, had been highly respected by many jihadis in the tribal areas and had often acted as a go-between between them and the government. When he was kidnapped, the TTP urged the Asian Tigers to release him, but to no avail. Instead they murdered him.
Asad Qureshi, who was educated in Bradford, was released in September along with his driver, but there has been no word on the fate of Colonel Imam, the other ISI officer kidnapped at the same time. Fears must now be growing for his safety.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Qureshi and the other prisoners were kept in isolation in a six by six foot cell, barely able to move, and subjected to physical and mental torture. He appears to have been released following the intervention of relatives in Pakistan, although it is unclear if a ransom was paid. The Telegraph quoted Qureshi as saying: "I was terrified. I was beaten and whipped. One of my colleagues was killed. I feared for my own life and I am lucky to be alive."
Update: Was the shooting incident in Dandy Darpakhel at the end of August in which Usman Punjabi and five of his associates were killed connected to the payment of a ransom for the freedom of Asad Qureshi? It was said at the time that it was a dispute over a wealthy Arab widow whose husband had been killed in a drone strike. However, this may not be the case. Qureshi was first reported released on 9 September, but had undoubtedly been freed some days before after the payment of a ransom by his family. The PTI news agency reports today that there was a gunfight between Usman Punjabi's group and the Sabir Mahsud group - who together made up the Asian Tigers - over the division of the ransom. Mahsud came out on top of that dispute, but appears to have angered the TTP, which killed him and two others after kidnapping them from their office in Miranshah on Sunday.
Evidence that the TTP was bound to take revenge on Sabir Mahsud for killing Usman Punjabi can be found in an article published in The News International at the time of the August shoot-out:
"A Taliban commander, when reached by phone, in North Waziristan said the incident had sent a wave of shock and concern among the militants. He said senior Taliban leaders, including some from tribal areas and Punjab, had taken strong exception to the killing of six militants by their colleagues and threatened to punish the culprits. “The Taliban are now trying to get hold of Sabir Mahsud and his men and punish them for their crime,” said the Taliban commander, wishing not to be named."
The same article mentioned that the Asian Tigers had fallen out over money and over what to do with the hostages. What a squalid and murderous little world these people inhabit.

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