US, UK, France – A review of the attacks will show you just how deep Pakistan’s terror vortex runs
Ieverything is very familiar. A man holds a group of people hostage, with a readily available weapon, demanding the release of a hostage, or just shooting anyway to avenge a perceived insult to his religion, which the people held hostage have nothing to do with to have. Even more common is the fact that such a person is most likely a Pakistani or of Pakistani descent. Not Afghan, or even Yemeni, although both countries have suffered badly in terms of protracted conflict. A review of the attacks over just one year shows how far-reaching the effect of the Pakistani vortex is.
The Texas striker
Little is known about Malik Faisal Akram, the Briton from Pakistan origin who brandished a gun at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in suburban Dallas, Texas. He was 44, from the Blackburn area in Lancashire, and appears to have been focused on freeing his ‘sister’ Aafia Siddiqui from an 86-year sentence. It seems to have been a figurative relation of causes. Aafia was also Pakistani, a neuroscientist whose husband divorced her for being “violent, manipulative and on the path to terrorism”. She was originally arrested for the attempted murder of US military officers in 2008 in Afghanistan, and for alleged links to al-Qaeda.
A few years ago, another Pakistani woman from Multan, Tashfeen Malik and her husband, who had lived and prospered in the United States, shot dead 14 people and injured 22 in the Inland Revenue Center at San Bernadino in 2015. The institute where she studied, the Al-Huda Foundation, was dedicated to hooking middle-class women to the “cause,” and the irony? Its Karachi branch was founded by cleric Farhat Hashmi and her husband Idrees Zubair in 1994, both of whom hold doctorates from Scotland’s renowned center for Islamic learning, the University of Glasgow.
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The United Kingdom, center of terrorism
In the UK, the involvement of Pakistanis in terrorist attacks is currently the subject of a trial. Another ethnic Pakistani Muhammad Gohir Khan was arrested in 2021 by British police for the attempted murder of a brave Pakistani blogger, Ahmed Waqass Goraya who lived in Rotterdam and who had received several threats in the past. The case went to trial this month. As of this writing, the British are investigating links to the Texas shooter, with two arrests in Manchester, which has a large Pakistani population.
Do you remember the annoyance of having to leave behind any shampoo or that precious perfume of more than 100 ml at the airport? It came from a group formed in Pakistan, all British citizens, who planned to blow up transatlantic airliners using explosives in plastic bottles in 2006, which was busted by Operation Overt. It was the genesis. Then came the various London bombings, tragedy after tragedy, with the last in 2019 when Ousman Khan, who had been released from prison and still wore an electronic tag, struck at a prisoner rehabilitation event at London Bridge. His attack blocked the release of another ethnic Pakistani Rangzieb Ahmed who was expelled from Pakistan and was one of the most senior al-Qaeda leaders ever arrested on British soil.
Pakistan has cooperated on all these matters, which has earned it the status of a perfect ally. This continues to this day, and is why the UK does not talk about the Pakistani connection unless it has to.
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France, Spain, Italy
France is no stranger to Pakistani extremism. Last year, thousands of people poured into the streets of Lahore and other cities for anti-France demonstrations in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of free speech linked to what Pakistanis regard as blasphemy. This led Paris to ask all its citizens to let the country. Earlier in 2020, France arrested another four pakistani for links to Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud, then 25, who attacked a group of people with a meat cleaver, believing them to be employees of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Mahmoud’s father in Pakistani Punjab said he was proud of his son, like others in the village who flocked to his home to congratulate his family. The assailant was a disciple of the fiery preacher Muhammad Illyas Qadri, founder of Dawat-e-Islami, which owns a chain of madrassas in Pakistan. He had two brothers in Italy.
Italy has its own problems with Pakistan. This was part of a Europe-wide investigation that led to the end of a Pakistani Network who smuggled migrants into the heart of Europe. In December 2021, Spain arrested a Pakistani man for spreading and supporting violent jihadist messages online about his compatriot’s attack on Charlie Hebdo. The case is still under investigation. Spain also cracked down on a Pakistani smuggling ring, as well as a jihadist ring Pakistanis earlier. spain “Salafist Corridor” came into the picture after it emerged that Mohammad Atta, one of the 9/11 attackers, had met a Pakistan-based handler in Salou, Spain. Don’t forget the trail of the Mumbai attack of 26/11 which led to Barcelona, be the scene of a vicious terrorist attack later.
Troubles in Central Asia…
Further afield, in strike-ravaged Kazakhstan, Russian security investigations reveal significant role of Pakistani forces Tablighi Jamaat and extremists trained in Afghanistan in the riots that led to vandalism and loss of life and property. The Tablighis were recently banned even by Saudi Arabia, which called the group “one of the gates of terrorism”. The reason for the ban appears to center on the activities of her women’s group, although it appears an unofficial ban has been in place for decades.
The Tablighi Jamaat declares itself as a simple movement to purify Islam, but it has become a springboard for terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, founded by Tablighi members Fazlur Rehman Khalil and Saifullah Akhtar, which has then spawned a host of other groups. It now appears that the Tablighi Jamaat is part of the inevitable Afghan spillover.
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…and in the neighborhood
In Bangladesh, police have arrested the extremely pro-Pakistani members of the Jamaat-e-Islami for their role in inciting hatred in the October 2021 violence against Hindu pandals and a disinformation campaign based on an alleged burning of the Holy Koran in a Hindu temple. A month later, Dhaka police arrested a run by pakistan fake currency racket, seizing some Rs 73 million.
Sri Lanka recently arrested three Pakistanis for taking pictures of the Indian High Commission in Colombo. In 2019, the National Investigation Agency had warned Sri Lanka of a Pakistani diplomat based in Colombo plotting to attack the American and Israeli consulates in India, and sent several warnings to Sri Lanka before the murderer 2019 Easter attacks which targeted three hotels and three churches, killing more than 267 people. Clearly, Colombo is not taking any risks. A month earlier, the Sri Lankan police had arrested Pakistanis and an Iranian with a shipment of around 250 kg of heroin worth $12 million. This was part of a series of arrests off Colombo, at the same time such seizures were also seen off the Indian coast.
There are other cases of arrests of Pakistanis in Indonesia, Thailand and other parts of the world, for criminal or terrorist activities. Each of these countries has a violent history of Pakistan-inspired terrorism; for example the arrest of Oumar Patek, the Bali bombing, Abbottabad, or the long history of terrorism in the UK, or the arrest of Pakistanis Tablighis in Spain even in 2008. Most of the examples cited here occurred in a single year, indicating that the Pakistani vortex continues to draw the most radical people into its fold, which then spreads to other countries through a complex web of crime, religious passion, and sheer numbers.
The Texas attack is just a symptom of a much bigger malaise, evident in the latest report that Pakistan is still harboring some 15 groups, 12 of which are Designated International Terrorist Entities. The prediction of the US Congress report is that of a resurgence of regional terrorism after the victory of the Taliban. This is, however, a rather limited conclusion. What is likely is a rise in global terrorism in this troubled country. Just watch the news.
The author is Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. She tweets @kartha_tara. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)