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Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Pakistani militants' new targets
Pakistani read wanted posters
The photos have been published in leading newspapers

The disclosure by the Pakistani police that members of a banned Islamic group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are the prime suspects in two of the recent bombing incidents in Karachi has given a new twist to the militant politics in the country.

Never before had an Islamic or any other militant group been singled out for targeting foreigners.

Photographs of 10 suspected militants, issued by Pakistani police, were published in leading newspapers in the country on Saturday.


Even before Pakistan announced its support for the US-led military operation in Afghanistan... its relations with the Taleban had been strained because of Mullah Omar's refusal to hand over several wanted members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

They have been accused of involvement in two cases of bomb explosions in Karachi in which foreigners or foreign installations were the prime target.

On 8 May an apparent suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a Pakistani Navy bus, killing 14 people, including 11 French technicians.

And on 14 June a car bomb targeted the American consulate, in which 12 people were killed, all of them Pakistanis.

The two incidents have led to an exodus of foreign nationals from the country.

Shia targets

Police now say they have reasons to believe that members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were behind both these incidents. Their names, photographs and other details have been released, along with an offer of a substantial reward money ($320,000) for providing assistance that could lead to their arrest.

Shias carry massacre victims to graveyard in 1999
Shias have long been targets of religious violence
The name Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is not new to militant politics in the country. But until now it was identified as an extremist Sunni Muslim group, whose only target was the minority Shia Muslims.

It is true the group also killed several Iranian nationals, including a couple of diplomats, but this was also because they belonged to the Shia faith.

The group wants Pakistan to be declared as a Sunni State, where the rights of Shia should be drastically curtailed, and they should be made to live as a religious minority.

Last year the government officially banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi along with an extremist Shia group, Sipah-e-Mohammed. But the move had little impact on the activities of the group as it had all along worked as an underground organisation.

Leader killed

Nevertheless, the government's decision was taken by the group as a declaration of war, and it vowed to continue with its activities.

Asif Ramzi
Asif Ramzi is thought to be the group's second-in-command
Perhaps the biggest blow to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi came last month when its founder leader, Riaz Basra, was killed in a controversial police encounter in the Punjab province. He was the most wanted man in the country, with the biggest prize money on his head.

Following his violent death, Basra's family accused the authorities of killing him in a fake encounter after keeping him in detention for several months.

Several of the people whose photos have now been released by the authorities as suspects in the Karachi bombing incidents are known members of the group.

One of them, Akram Lahori is believed to be the new head of the organisation, and Asif Ramzi his second-in-command. They already have huge prize money on their heads.

Reasons sought

Though the authorities have made only the preliminary investigations public, it will be interesting to find out how and why the group decided to turn its guns on foreigners, particularly Westerners.

Perhaps one reason could be its association with the Taleban, and the way its members in the past were provided sanctuary in Afghanistan by Mullah Omar.

In fact, even before Pakistan announced its support for the US-led military operation in Afghanistan, Islamabad's relations with the Taleban had been strained because of Mullah Omar's refusal to hand over several wanted members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

So, if Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is really behind the two bombing incidents in Karachi - something that still remains unclear - it means the organisation has decided to go for a greater role in Islamic militant politics.

It also suggests that when its members were taking arms training in Afghanistan or were hiding there, they had established close links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda. And in a way, the group can be described as the Pakistani wing of al-Qaeda.

Musharraf's Pakistan

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Militant threat

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See also:

29 Jun 02 | South Asia
18 Jun 02 | South Asia
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