Page last updated at 05:17 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Hunting Mumbai militant's roots

The one known surviving militant behind last week's terrible attacks in Mumbai is reported to have come from the Pakistani village of Faridkot. The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan travelled there to speak to some of the villagers.

Faridkot village
Faridkot villagers do not want to be linked to the Mumbai attacks

"We're tired of being hounded by people from the media," says Bilal, a Faridkot villager. "They have been coming here every day since the news broke."

He is referring to reports in the international media, following the terror attacks in Mumbai, which said the only surviving militant comes from Faridkot in the province of Punjab.

The reports, which have led to an outcry in India, said the gunman is a Pakistani national variously named as Ajmal Amir Qasab or Kasav.

The information came from interrogation of the gunman, the reports added.

Fertile recruiting ground

They also said that Qasab is a 21-year-old and a fluent English speaker.

That description seems to be at odds with the general population in the village he is said to hail from.

Confusingly, there are three villages by the name of Faridkot in this part of southern Punjab. A BBC Urdu service colleague visited two of them and found no one who knew of the man currently in Indian detention.

I visited a third Faridkot, about 50km (31 miles) from Multan on the road to Khanewal.

It is an archetypal Punjabi village - a dusty enclave of mud and stone buildings of about 4,000 people.

Mohammad Ilyas Khan

We are all hardworking, honest people here
Farmer Mohammad Ilyas Khan

Almost all of the villagers are semi-literate farmers and labourers. They are surrounded by green fields and brimming canals.

Nearby Multan - known as city of the saints - is one of the oldest cities in the world and the hometown of Pakistan's current prime minister and foreign minister.

Located close to the Indian border, the city also houses the headquarters of the Wifaq-ul-Madaris (association of religious schools), which operates establishments throughout Pakistan.

Khanewal is another, smaller city in southern Punjab, an area which since the partition of India has long been known for its strong religious sentiments and staunchly anti-Indian views.

It is also one of Pakistan's most under-developed and poverty stricken areas.

Multan and its adjoining districts have served as a fertile recruitment ground for militant organisations fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

In particular, hundreds of young men joined the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad groups to fight Indian forces in Kashmir.

'Indian propaganda'

But just a week ago, this Faridkot was just another obscure village in Pakistan's rural landscape. Now, question marks over the identity of Mumbai's attackers has shaken it out of its rustic existence.

Azam Amir Qasab
Suspect named as Azam Amir Qasab
21 years old, fluent English speaker
Told police he is from Faridkot village, in Pakistan's Punjab province
Said the attackers took orders from handlers in Pakistan

School is out, and dozens of girls and boys line the broken streets as we venture deep into the village.

A local and his friends are willing to talk, although they are a little jaded by the questions.

"We are all hardworking, honest people here," says Mohammad Ilyas Khan, a local farmer.

"People in the village rarely leave and that is only for occasional work or business trips."

Ilyas Khan adds that no-one from the village has been to India, and he does not know of anyone who has been a member of a militant organisation.

"There were three Ajmals in the village, and none of them fits the description of the man the media has named," he explains.

"One Ajmal worked in Faisalabad (another city in the Punjab) and was killed in an accident. The other two are young men who live in the village. One works as a waiter and the other is employed in a factory."

Qamar-uz-Zaman, another villager, says the men have been recently questioned by Pakistani security agencies.

Men in in Faridkot
Faridkot residents fear for the future if war with India breaks out
"Obviously, it was a serious accusation and the officials came here to check things out," he said. "They checked the ID cards of both the men and their activities."

Evidently, the security personnel were satisfied by the answers they received as no arrests or detentions have taken place so far.

But the villagers are quite perturbed by this recent turn of events, and vehemently denounce what they call "Indian propaganda".

"No man from our village has ever been involved in any such activity," one says. "It is not fair that so many people have been disturbed by these false accusations."

Another says: "We are worried now because India is turning belligerent and is threatening to attack. We are scared of what can happen if war breaks out.

"The loss will not be just of Faridkot, or Khanewal. It will be for all of Pakistan."

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