Early in 2003, Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed called on his followers to “fight against the evil trio: America, Israel and India.”
“We are being invaded, humiliated, manipulated and looted,” Saeed told his audience at the Defence of the Ummah Conference in Islamabad. “How else can we respond but through jihad?”
On Monday, the Lahore High Court quashed First Information Reports filed against the Lashkar chief for inflammatory speeches. Saeed’s lawyers successfully argued that the Lashkar’s parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, was not proscribed — although Pakistan’s National Assembly had been told in August that it was.
Pakistan’s failure to initiate credible criminal action against Saeed is causing increasing concern across the world, as evidence mounts that the Lashkar is acting on his 2003 speech.
Ever since 2001, a growing number of Lashkar-linked cells have been found to be active across the world, often acting in coordination with al-Qaeda. In a March 2009 testimony to the United States House Homeland Security Committee, scholar C. Christine Fair noted that the two organisations “enjoy tight linkages.”
And in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Forces have repeatedly clashed with Lashkar units in Kunnar and Nuristan — an area now considered under de-facto jihadist control.
Lashkar leaders became increasingly enmeshed in the global jihadist project after the cataclysmic events of September 11, 2001 — no surprise, perhaps, since its co-founder Abdullah Azzam was al-Qaeda chief Osama bin-Laden’s ideological mentor.
The organisation’s networks played a key role in facilitating the escape of dozens of al-Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan in the wake of the 2001 incidents, providing them with travel documents, funds and safe houses.
Key al-Qaeda operative Zein al-Abideen Mohamed Hussein — a Saudi national who operated using the code-name Abu Zubeida — was perhaps the best known of these figures. Hussein was captured from a Lashkar safe house in Faisalabad; Pakistan later released his hosts.
In addition, Lashkar financier Arif Qasmani — recently sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for organising the firebombing of the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express in 2007 — was charged with pumping in funds and weapons to Taliban insurgents fighting in Afghanistan.
Following its proscription in 2002, the Lashkar opened new camps in Pakistan’s Waziristan and Mohmand Agencies, often co-located with al-Qaeda facilities. By some accounts, al-Qaeda volunteers often trained at Lashkar camps in the region.
Even as it expanded its Afghan operations, the Lashkar expanded its reach in Australia, Europe and the U.S.
Days after al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the U.S., Virginia cleric Ali al-Timimi set up a network to fight with Taliban forces against the imminent invasion of Afghanistan. Investigators discovered that several members of the cell had trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan.
Lashkar leaders also committed personnel to the Islamist campaign in Iraq. In 2004, British troops in Basra arrested Dilshad Ahmad, who had served from 1997 to 2001 as the Lashkar’s operational commander for cross-Line of Control operations.
French national Willie Virgile Brigitte, arrested in October 2003 for planning terrorist attacks in Australia, was found to have trained at the camps from where Ahmad drew his cadre.
The investigators also found linkages between Richard Reid, the al-Qaeda linked terrorist who attempted to blow up a Paris-Miami flight in December 2001, and the Lashkar. Ghulam Mustafa Rama, a close confidant of Saeed, was found to be funnelling France-based jihadists to the terror group’s camps in Pakistan. Rama also admitted to having had contacts with Reid.
Washington DC-based taxi driver Mahmud Faruq Brent al-Mutazzim, held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s agents on terrorism charges in 2005, had also trained with the Lashkar. Investigators found a web-page on al-Mutazzim’s computer which contained contact details for the Lashkar’s headquarters at Muridke, inviting would-be jihadists to “please e-mail us and we will make arrangements for you at a training camp, insha-allah [if God wills it].”
Jihadists across the world have increasingly been using the Internet to access the Lashkar’s infrastructure. In June 2006, police in the United Kingdom arrested a ring of jihadists who were planning attacks in Canada and the U.S. Members of the cell, led by Abid Khan, were recruited online, and then routed to Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar camps.
British intelligence believes that Shahzad Tanweer, one of the cells which bombed the London underground train system in July 2005, spent several nights at Muridke. Tanweer is also believed to have visited the Jaish-e-Mohammad-linked Jamia Manzoor-ul-Islam seminary.
Earlier, jihadists linked to the United Kingdom, notably Dhiren Bharot and Omar Khayam, also graduated from the Lashkar’s camps into the al-Qaeda fold.
Late last month, the U.S. Senate made financial support contingent on Islamabad’s willingness to dismantle “terrorist bases of operations” including Muridke, the Lashkar’s headquarters near Lahore.