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Pakistan: Jama'at-ul-Ahrar: Obsessive Pursuits



By Ambreen Agha

November 24, 2014

On November 21, 2014, two Security Force (SF) personnel were killed and two others were injured in a bomb attack targeting SFs vehicle on Warsak Road in Mathra Bazaar area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. Ehsanullah Ehsan, the 'spokesman' of the Jama'at-ul-Ahrar (JuA, Group of the Free), a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), while claiming responsibility for the attack said that the attack was revenge of one of their members who was killed in an operation by the army. He further warned, "We will continue to target the Pakistani military in the future."

On November 18, 2014, two Policemen were killed and another was wounded in a targeted hand grenade attack in the Shabqadar tehsil (revenue unit) of Charsadda District in KP. Ehsanullah Ehsan the 'spokesman' of TTP-JuA claimed responsibility for the attack.

Earlier, on November 2, 2014, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the parking area, at least 500 meters from the Wagah Border with India, on the Pakistan side, killing 60 persons and injuring more than 150. One of the injured died later. Soon after the attack, three terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the attack. These included al Qaeda-affiliated anti-Shia group Jandullah, TTP's Mahar Mehsud faction, and JuA. In order to establish its role in the attack on the Wagah border, JuA, however, went on to release three photographs of the suicide bomber involved in the attack. "Brother Hanifullah" the email sent by Ehsan to The Long War Journal read, "carried out successful martyrdom operation on Murtad [a Muslim who rejects Islam] Army in Wagah Lahore."

On September 26, 2014, two activists of an anti-Taliban peace committee were killed and another seriously injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in the Dawezai area of Pandyali Tehsil in the Mohmand Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). JuA 'spokesman' Ehsan, claiming responsibility for the attack, warned that the peace committee members were targeted for fighting and spying against the 'Taliban', and that such attacks would continue on 'pro-government paid people' as they were the enemies of the Taliban.

Significantly, the announcement of the formation of JuA was made on August 26, 2014. Maulana Qasim Khorasani, the former head of the TTP-Swat Chapter, was appointed emir (chief) of TTP-JuA and Ehsanullah Ehsan its 'spokesman'. Declaring the formation, Ehsan stated, from an undisclosed location, "the new group only wanted the Sharia'h system to prevail in the country."

Other leaders of the JuA included a top TTP 'commander' from Mohmand Agency in FATA, Omar Khalid Khorasani, who was the former emir of the TTP-Mohmand Chapter. TTP-JuA's Shura (council) includes other important commanders, including Mansoor Nazim Shura and Maulana Haidar from Orakzai Agency; Maulana Adbullah from Bajaur Agency; Qari Ismail from Khyber Agency. It also boasts of 'commanders' from KP, including, Qari Shakil Haqqani from Charsadda District; Mufti Misbah from Peshawar District; and Maulana Yasin from Swat District.

Even before the formal creation of JuA, Omar Khalid had demonstrated his capacities by executing attacks on SF personnel and pro-government peace members living mainly in the tribal areas of the country. On June 10, 2014, for instance, cadres of his faction mounted an attack on a security check post near the Airport Security Force (ASF) Girls' Hostel outside the Jinnah International Airport in Bhitaiabad locality of Pehlwan Goth area in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town of Karachi. A Twitter account allegedly operated by Omar Khorasani, in a tweet, claimed the attack on the check post. Significantly, the TTP had claimed responsibility for the attack on Karachi Airport on June 10, 2014 - the second attack following the June 8-9, 2014, attack at the Karachi Airport in which 24 people were killed. The then Omar Khalid faction of the TTP, on May 13, 2014, killed Safi peace committee leader Subidar Safi's nephew Jahangir Khan and injured his driver in an IED blast in the Safi Tehsil of Mohmand Agency. Much earlier, on February 16, 2014, Omar Khalid issued a statement claiming that his group, which was running under his name, had executed 23 abducted Frontier Corps (FC) personnel in 'revenge' against the Government continuously killing their men in different parts of the country, including Karachi (Sindh), Peshawar and Swabi Districts (KP). He warned that if the Government did not stop killing TTP supporters, they would also continue to kill the SF personnel, and further, that that the killings were in response to the peace negotiations going on between TTP's Mullah Fazlullah faction and the Federal Government. The FC personnel had been abducted after an attack on a check post in Mohmand Agency on June 14, 2010.

The much-hyped 'peace deal' with the Mullah Fazlullah faction became the bone of contention between the two TTP leaders, leading Khorasan to finally distance himself from the parent outfit in August 2014.

Indeed, TTP has currently split into three groups - the Fazlullah faction, the Said Khan or Sajna faction and the JuA. Most of the former TTP allies have joined or pledged allegiance to one or other of these three groups. Reports suggest that over 50 per cent of senior 'commanders' of the Fazlullah-led TTP from the Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai, Khyber and Khurram Agencies of FATA, and from Swat and Charsadda District of KP, have already joined JuA. Though the TTP split is a blow to the main umbrella outfit that once encompassed all the three forces, the ideological threat that these breakaway factions pose cannot be underestimated.

In this context, the threat from JuA is significant. On October 16, 2014, JuA released a video of a renegade former Pakistan Army officer, introducing him as Captain Dr. Tariq Ali (also known as Abu Obaidah Al-Islamabadi among Jihadi circles), asking military officers and soldiers to join JuA in their goal of implementing the Sharia'h and establishing the Islamic system. Speaking first in fluent Urdu and then in English, Ali addressed the "Junior and Middle ranking officers of the Pakistan Army":

"So many events have gone by since 9/11, 2001, in front of your eyes and so many atrocities in Pakistan have been committed either by yourself or in your name by the Americans. Becoming frontline ally of the Kuffar (infidels), invasion of tribal areas, kidnapping of Aafia Siddiqui, arrest of thousands of Muslims and handing them over to the Kuffar, massacre of Muslim men, women and children inside Lal Masjid, martyrdom of great Mujahid Sheikh Osama bin Laden, dropping bombs on civilian population of tribal areas and Swat, assisting the Kuffar to kill the Muslims, drone strikes, and there is a long list of crimes that have been committed by your Army since 2001...How on earth can somebody with an iota of Imaan (faith) in his heart remain in this Army...? So you still have time to leave this Army. If somebody is really keen to fight, he should come and join an organisation that is fighting to implement the Sharia'h and establish Khilafa (Caliphate)... In the end, I would say a few words of advice to the generals although I don't see much hope there. But I must fulfil my duty of reminding you... I believe that you generals are responsible for every misery in Pakistan. You people do not implement the Sharia'h, in fact you fight against the one who wants to implement Sharia'h in Pakistan. I urge you [the generals], as a member of TTP-JuA, to get out of the way and let us implement the Sharia'h in Pakistan. But if you choose to fight us, by Allah, we shall come along with our men who love death more than you love this worldly life and you won't be able to fight us, with an army of Khilafa (Caliphs) behind us."

This statement comes at a time when the Pakistan Army has launched two operations in FATA, the "most dangerous place" in the world according to Pakistani journalist Shuja Nawaz. Operation Zarb-e-Azb ([Sword of the Prophet]) in North Waziristan Agency was launched on June 15, 2014; and Operation Khyber-I in Khyber Agency, launched on October 16, 2014. Both Operations are intended to weaken the 'domestically oriented' terrorist groups, but would have no impact on the broader environment of terrorism that the Pakistani state have allowed to flourish. The internal power struggles between terrorist formations and their sponsoring agencies and political supporters, and the splits within the larger TTP framework is only going to compound the threat.

Islamabad has failed to escape its conventional rhetoric and the dynamic that it has created through the selective support to terrorism, and to engage in a sustained ideological battle against the extremist Islamist ideology. This ideology has gripped the country with complete obduracy, and, despite the trajectory of individual groups and organisations, continues to be restructured and reorganized under different banners. This ideological backdrop has now been impacted by the even more virulent creed of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, ISIS) and organizations sympathetic or affiliated to it, which claim to be the guardians of the 'Islamic cause.'

TTP-JuA has clearly identified itself with the imminent establishment of a global 'Islamic Caliphate' and advocates the Islamic dominance of a broader Khorasan movement, echoing the extremist IS ideology. On March 20, 2012, Khalid Omar Khorasan released a propaganda video in which he had enumerated five "important goals": overthrow Pakistani institutions; release both Pakistani and "foreign" fighters currently under state detention; impose Sharia'h law; obtain a nuclear weapon; and establish a global caliphate. These are objectives that JuA shares with a wide range of other Islamist extremist organizations, including many that continue to be supported by Pakistan's state establishment. It is abundantly clear, today, to all but the puppeteers of the Pakistani state, that the blowback of the Janus-faced policies they have pursued will eventually and cumulatively threaten the very existence of that state.

Ambreen Agha is a Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Source: South Asia Intelligence Review