Monday, December 14, 2009

JIHADIS: ISI, ARMY, CIA FINE; WHERE ARE OUR ROGUE ELEMENTS?

Guest post by Shyamal Barua

FBI's interrogation of David Coleman Headley aka Syed Daood Gilani, has once again confirmed what has been widely known forever: Pakistan's army is working with the jihadis who have been targetting India. What is not so well known however, is that, it once ran training camps for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group with the apparent knowledge of the CIA, an example of complicity that raises questions about the current state of the nuclear-armed nation. So says former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere, author of a new book that provides rare insight both into alleged past army support for the defunct Lashkar-e-Taiba and to the group's connections to a global network linked to al-Qaeda.

The question of Pakistani military support for Islamist militants is crucial for the United States as it tries to work out how to stabilise the country and neighbouring Afghanistan. Bruguiere bases the information in his book on international terrorism, "Ce que je n'ai pas pu dire" ("What I could not say") on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent two and a half months in a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp in 2001-02. In an interview, Bruguiere said he was convinced Lashkar-e-Taiba, first set up to fight India in its part of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, had become part of an international network tied to Al-Qaeda. "Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistani movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al-Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand violence worldwide," he told Reuters.

That's pretty much a given, isn't it? They provide training facilities and cadres for Al-Qaeda. Three of them were arrested in Bangla in Nov 14th news plotting to boom the U.S. embassy in Dhaka in an expression of the Bangla people's outrage at our existence. He was "very, very anxious about the situation" in Pakistan, where militants are staging a series of bloody urban attacks to avenge a government offensive against their strongholds.

"The problem right now is to know if the Pakistanis have sufficient power to control the situation," he said. They don't. If they change their ways they might in the future, but they're not really changing their ways. They're trying to go after the Pak Taliban but not the Al-Qaeda infrastructure or the Afghan Taliban infrastructure in Balochistan and North Wazoo. The problem was also "to know if all the members of the military forces and the ISI are playing the same game. I am not sure," he added. I'm sure they're not, and I'm also sure that the ones who aren't are not rogue.

Pakistan has long been accused of giving covert support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was blamed for last year's attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. It denies the allegation and has banned the organisation. But Hafiz Saeed isn't in jug, the charges against him were dropped and he never did more than house arrest. Pak military trainers provided training and logistical assistance the Mumbai killers and LeT is about as "defunct" as I am, maybe less so. New form of terrorism: Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower -- a forerunner of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.

This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures and political objectives. "After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way," he said. It doesn't cost much to be a terrorist. The November 14th-Red Brigades-Baader Meinhof model works perfectly well for small-scale operations, and even big blow-outs like killing Aldo Moro, if you're willing to take the casualties. Note that Jemaah Islamiyah, for instance, was effectively wiped out after the Bali bombings.

An early encounter with Lashkar-e-Taiba came while he was investigating shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who tried to set off explosives on a transatlantic flight from Paris in 2001. This investigation led to a man, who Bruguiere said was the Lashkar-e-Taiba's representative in Paris, and who was suspected of helping Reid -- an accusation he denied. Bruguiere said the link to Reid was not proved in court. Brigitte, a Frenchman originally from France's Caribbean department of Guadeloupe, had gone to Pakistan shortly after Sept 11 to try to reach Afghanistan. Unable to make it, he had been sent to a Lashkar centre outside Lahore. A man named Sajid Mir became his handler. "He quickly understood that Sajid belonged to the regular Pakistan army," wrote Bruguiere. After one and a half months, he was taken with four other trainees, two British and two Americans, to a Lashkar camp in the hills in Punjab province. The Toyota pick-up which took them there passed through four army checkpoints without being stopped.

During his two and a half months stay at the camp, Bruguiere says, Brigitte realised the instructors were soldiers on detachment. Military supplies were dropped by army helicopters. Brigitte said he and other foreigners were forced four times to leave the camp and move further up into the hills to avoid being caught by CIA officers. They were believed to be checking if Pakistan had kept to a deal under which the Americans turned a blind eye to Lashkar camps in Punjab provided no foreigners were trained there. In return, Bruguiere said, Pakistan under then president Pervez Musharraf helped track down leaders of Al-Qaeda.

Western countries were at the time accused by India of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to crack down on militant groups which threatened Western interests. Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of "home-grown terrorism" in Britain linked to militant groups based in Pakistan's Punjab province. After leaving the camp accompanied by Sajid, Brigitte was sent back to France. Sajid then ordered him to fly to Australia where he joined a cell later accused of plotting attacks there. Tipped off by French police, Brigitte was deported from Australia in 2003 and convicted by a French court of links to terrorism. Bruguiere said he had personally questioned Brigitte in the presence of his lawyer to check his testimony. Information provided by Brigitte was also crosschecked by French police based on mobile phone and e-mail traffic. Bruguiere went to Pakistan himself in 2006 as part of his investigations into the deaths of 11 Frenchmen in a bombing outside a hotel in Karachi in 2002. He stepped down as France's best-known counter-terrorism expert in 2007 and now represents the EU on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme in Washington.

So much about the rogue ISI and CIA, but just consider these facts of escape by dreaded LeT leader Ilyas Kashmiri, the first time in late 1994 from the Ghaziabad safe house, cordoned by Indian cops, upon being tipped off by a milkman who saw some men with guns inside, but while Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Maulana Masood Azhar was captured, later freed during the IA's Kandahar hijack episode, and the second time, he was apprehended by Indian Army in Poonch and jailed in 1995 only to escape from the prison in 2 years, and later conducted operations against India, and reportedly being rewarded personally with cash by then Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf for presenting the head of an Indian army sepoy to him.

Kashmiri is the common thread that runs between Sheikh and Headley. Both were Pakistan-born anglicized youth, equally committed and skilled in understanding and adapting to the ways of the West. They did not fit the traditional description of a jihadi terrorist, yet were very effective in planning attacks. The inter-connections between Omar Sheikh, Ilyas Kashmiri, David Headley, Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, Bahaziq, 26/11, 9/11, LeT, ISI, CIA etc., are so intricate that it will become almost impossible to state where ISI ends and where global terrorism begins, though all leads indicates it to be CIA/MI6/Mossad.

What is more worrisome, however, is that from the Mumbai blasts of 1993 to the carnage of 26/11, despite many evidences about the involvement of number of rogue and corrupt elements in our society, both at the govt level including in the intelligence & security apparatus, and civilian including celebrities in the world of showbiz, not many have been punished. It's high time that we identify the rogue elements amidst us, to help prevent repeat of such massacres in future, and not take the official version of the intelligence shared from the FBI,CIA or MI6, who have their own compulsion for concealing, suppressing, and even distorting facts to their advantage, and to save their skin.
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