LeJ’ which stands out for its secrecy, lethality and unrelenting pursuit of its core objectives; targeting the western interests in Pakistan and the Shia community and the eventual transformation of the country into a Taliban-style Islamic state.
Armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers, the LeJ attackers stopped the bus of Shia pilgrims and forced the passengers to get off. While women and children were spared, they were made to witness execution of their dear ones who were lined up and sprayed with bullets. It was the deadliest attack on Shias in Pakistan since September 4, 2010, when a suicide bomber killed 57 people at a rally in Quetta.
The gory attack was not an isolated incident, but part of a systematic campaign of violence in Balochistan directed towards the Shia community. On July 30, 2011, 18 people were killed in a short span of 24 hours in Quetta in targeted attacks by the LeJ, including seven pilgrims who were waiting for transportation to Iran. On the day of the Eid-ul-Fitr on August 2, 2011, a suicide bomber tried to target an Eidgah of the Shia community in Quetta by exploding his suicide vest, killing 12 people.
Over half a million Shia Hazaras live in Pakistan, especially in Quetta Balochistan.They are the frequent targets of attacks in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan by anti-Shia Sunni-Deobandi sectarian-cum-militants groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which suspect them of assisting and aiding US intelligence agencies in their hunt for the fugitive leaders of al-Qaeda and Taliban, believed to be hiding in Pakistan..
While claiming responsibility for killing 29 Shia pilgrims in Mastung, a spokesman of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, said: ‘Our activists will continue to target the Shia community’.Those investigating the current spate of terrorist attacks targeting the Shia Hazaras of Balochistan point out that these incidents have intensified in recent months, especially after the release of Malik Ishaq. Therefore, hardly 24 hours after the Mastung carnage, the Punjab government placed Ishaq under temporary house arrest in Rahim Yar Khan, with District Police Officer (DPO) Sohail Chattha saying: ‘Malik Mohammad Ishaq’s behaviour endangered sectarian harmony and caused a sudden rise in sectarian heat in the country’. According to latest reports, Ishaq has now been shifted to a Rahim Yar Khan jail ‘for more than 30 days to preempt sectarian strife, under the Maintenance of Public Order.
Malik Ishaq, who himself admitted to an Urdu daily in October 1997 that he had been ‘instrumental in the killing of 102 people’ was arrested for involvement in sectarian murders ‘almost all of his victims were members of the Shia community. However, he was bailed out by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 14, 2011, in the last case of the Sri Lankan cricket team attack in Lahore ‘due to lack of evidence and the weak case of the prosecution.’
The LeJ was launched in 1996 by a breakaway faction of the Sunni-Deobandi extremists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), including Malik Mohammad Ishaq, Riaz Basra and Akram Lahori who walked out of the outfit, accusing the SSP leadership of deviating from the ideals of its founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who was assassinated by his Shia rivals in February 1990. The Lashkar today is believed to have deep links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and is considered to be the most violent terrorist organisation operating in Pakistan with the help of its lethal suicide squad. As with most of the Sunni Deobandi sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan and most of its cadre strength has been drawn from the numerous Sunni madrassas in Pakistan.
The Lashkar ‘which stands out for its secrecy, lethality and unrelenting pursuit of its core objectives; targeting the western interests in Pakistan and the Shia community and the eventual transformation of the country into a Taliban-style Islamic state ‘has become the group of choice today for hard-core militants who are adamant to pursue their jehadi agenda in Pakistan. As with most of the Pakistani militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan with the backing of the Pakistani security establishment. The LeJ consists of loosely coordinated cells spread across Pakistan with self-regulating chiefs for each of them. The operational successes of the group over the years are attributed to its multi-cell structure, with the group divided into small cells of approximately five to eight militants each, with limited contact with each other.
Although sporadic crackdowns by the security forces since late-2001 have had some success, the LeJ continues to make new recruitments to replace those arrested or killed. And great care is taken in recruiting cadres, while considering both religious conviction and the skill and commitment to carry out attacks.
While Shias remain the primary target of the LeJ, the group has, since 2002, broadened its focus to include other civilian, government and western targets in Pakistan. Despite the involvement of the LeJ and its parent party, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan in sectarian violence since its inception in 1996, the Pakistani state has failed to neutralise both the groups. Being part of a broader jehadi movement with Deobandi ideological affiliation, the LeJ has links with other jehadi groups, including the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Harkatul Jehadul Islami. The LeJ also maintains close operational links with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. There is, in fact, sufficient evidence to indicate that the LeJ has been transformed into a significant al-Qaeda affiliate, which provides not only back-up support but also takes part in terrorist attacks linked to al-Qaeda. Yet, the group stays admirably focused on its home turf and its stated goal of radicalising Pakistan.
Most terrorism experts agree that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operatives are the most highly trained and equally vicious killers the world of terror has to offer. Intelligence sources say the LeJ has finally moved to centre stage and the past claims by Pakistani agencies of its demise after the capture of its Salar-e-Aala Akram Lahori have proved to be wide off the mark, given the fact that the group has already started a fresh recruitment drive to form new cells at the district and provincial levels, especially after the recent release of Malik Mohammad Ishaq.