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Is Lashkar the new al-Qaida?

Is Lashkar the new al-Qaida?

Author: Indrani Bagchi
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 4, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Pakistan/Is-Lashkar-the-new-al-Qaida/articleshow/4735818.cms

The evidence is tumbling out of the closet: Pakistan's creation Lashkar-e-Taiba is not merely allied to al-Qaida but can now be described as the new al-Qaida. With the UN Security Council listing LeT leaders Arif Qasmani, Mohammad Yahya Mujahid and Abu Mohammed Ameen al-Peshawari as terrorists allied to al-Qaida, yet another veil is being ripped off Pakistan's terror claims.

The three, banned under a UN Security Council resolution adopted on June 29, are not mere footsoldiers of the Lashkar. In fact, the resolution brings out their importance for LeT and al-Qaida.

It says, ``Arif Qasmani has worked with LeT to facilitate terrorist attacks, to include the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India, and the February 2007, Samjhauta Express bombing in Panipat, India. Qasmani utilized money that he received from Dawood Ibrahim to facilitate the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India.''

The resolution added, ``Mohammed Yahya Mujahid is head of LeT's media department. In that capacity, Mujahid has issued statements to the press on behalf of LeT on numerous occasions. Fazeel-a-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen al-Peshawari, leader of the Ganj Madrassah in Peshawar, Pakistan, was providing assistance to the al-Qaida network.''

The dangerous part in all of this is that while the US and Pakistani armies are targeting the Taliban, the ISI continues to shelter the Lashkar, a greater threat to India and the world.

It is openly acknowledged in counter-terrorism circles that the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai were masterminded by the ISI and executed with commando precision by the LeT. Increasingly, the LeT is emerging as more than a mere Pakistani terror outfit. It's now revealed to have strong connections with al-Qaida and globally on par with it.

LeT's primary target continues to be India, with the aim of weakening it and establishing a caliphate here. It is for this mission that LeT receives the bulk of its funding from the ISI and is so close to the Pakistan army that some of its retired officers are the chief combat trainers for the LeT, which has, in turn, been training Taliban-Qaida fighters.

Over the years, al-Qaida has found great use for the extensive network of LeT - its charitable arm, JuD, is an effective front for its terror activities. Several years ago, ISI brought the LeT and Dawood's organized crime network together - thus bringing about a marriage of interests.

Recently, Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer who is in charge of Obama's Af-Pak strategy review, was quoted as saying, ``I think we have to regard the LeT as much a threat to us as any other part of the al-Qaida system.''

While LeT and al-Qaida are yet to launch joint operations, there is ample evidence of the two entitites marching together on the jihad highway. Security expert B Raman says al-Qaida is finding Arab recruitment for jihad more difficult, and has come to rely on LeT's extensive network of Pakistan diaspora jihadis, who are being trained and sent off on missions or as sleeper cells.

In 2006, national security adviser M K Narayanan described LeT as part of the "al-Qaida compact", and "as big and omnipotent" as the former. "The Lashkar today has emerged as a very major force. It has connectivity with west Asia, Europe... It is as big as and omnipotent as al-Qaida in every sense of the term," he said.

After the Mumbai attacks, David Kilcullen, US counter-insurgency expert, told a panel that counter-terror officials in Europe had found CDs of al-Qaida's recent urban warfare tactics that matched those used in Mumbai.

A significant number of Qaida leaders like Abu Zubaydah have been found from LeT safe-houses, while reports say over six Guantanamo bay detainees were LeT operatives or trained in LeT camps. Top intelligence officials in India say that their information shows LeT and al-Qaida share "cadres, ammunition and funds."

According to the South Asia Terrorism portal, LeT has an extensive network that run across Pakistan and India with branches in Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Bangladesh and South East Asia. It gets donations from Pakistanis in Gulf, UK, Islamic NGOs and Pakistani businessmen. But main source of funds is ISI and Saudi Arabia. It maintains ties to groups in Philippines, Middle East and Chechnya, been part of the Bosnian campaign against Serbs, set up sleeper cells in Australia and US and been active in Iraq. It even has a unit in Germany.

Farhana Ali, terrorism analyst with RAND Corporation, said in a post-Mumbai discussion, "The internationalisation of LeT has made it a potent force, capable with its capabilities but also in its membership. In this way LeT is far greater in power than al-Qaida."

Selig Harrison, author of `Pakistan: State of the Union', points to a more dangerous threat from the LET. "Disarming LeT should be the top US priority in Pakistan because it would greatly reduce the possibility of a coup by Islamist sympathisers in the armed forces. The closet Islamists in the Army and the powerful ISI are not likely to risk a coup in Islamabad unless they can count on armed support from Lashkar-e-Taiba and its allies to help them consolidate their grip on the countryside."

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