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Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ / LJ)

The bombing on a police training center 25 October 2016 in southwestern Pakistan put the spotlight on a Sunni extremist organization that analysts say has global terror ambitions and ties to the Islamic State. Pakistani media said Lashkar-e-Jhangvi carried out the attack. Little publicized in the West, the predominantly Punjab-based group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has wreaked havoc in Pakistan for years. It has been tied to the Taliban in Afghanistan and joined forces with al-Qaida. It is now linked to the Islamic State group (IS). Lashkar-i-jhangvi (lj) is one of the worlds most secretive terrorist groups. Little information exists on the organization, even though it is an al-Qa`ida affiliate that is regularly blamed for terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) was founded in 1996 as a militant offshoot of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, a Deobandi and anti-Shia group that emerged in the mid-1980s in reaction to class-based conflict and the domestic Pakistani Shia revival that followed the Iranian revolution. It was formed under the leadership of Akram Lahori and Riaz Basra, who accused the parent organisation of deviating from the ideals of its slain co-founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. It takes its name from the Sunni Cleric Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who spearheaded the anti-Shia campaign which began in the country 30 years ago as a counter-movement to the Iranian Islamic revolution. Jhangvi was a founding member of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a group blamed by many for introducing sectarian violence to the country. Muhammad Ajmal alias Akram Lahori was reportedly the Saalar-i-Aala ('Commander-in-Chief') of the LeJ. Lahori was originally with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which he had joined in 1990. Subsequently, in 1996, he along with Malik Ishaque and Riaz Basra founded the LeJ and launched terrorist activities in Punjab.

Although the LJ was formed as the armed wing of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), it has morphed into the collective armed wing of various Deobandi terrorist groups. Statements about the LJ from the Pakistani government and media suggest that the group is the most deadly Islamist terrorist organization in the world outside the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir. This description, however, is not completely accurate, and it has served both the handlers of jihadist groups in the Pakistani military as well as other Islamist terrorist groups who benefit by blaming the LJ for most terrorist attacks in Pakistan outside the tribal areas. LJ seeks to transform Pakistan into a Deobandi-dominated Sunni state, and primarily targets Shia and other religious minorities. Known in Pakistan as LeJ, the group had an agenda of establishing a Sunni Muslim kingdom in Pakistan and claimed responsibility for killing hundreds of Shi'ite Muslims in terror attacks. LeJs stated aims are: to make Pakistan a Sunni state, through violent means if necessary; to have Shias declared non-Muslims; and to eliminate followers of other faiths, particularly Jews, Christians and Hindus.

The group has been trying to create a sectarian divide on a regional level that could lead to a global war. By targeting minority Shiite groups in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, the group tries to widen the divide between the Sunni Saudi Arabia and its allies, and Shiite Iran, a divide that has already hit the Middle East.

Some reports suggest that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Punjab-based Sunni Deobandi militant group, was formed in 1996 by disgruntled former members of the SSP who believed that the SSP was moving away from its initial radical anti-Shia ideals, set by the groups late founder Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Others argue that LeJ was created by the SSP leadership to act as an armed wing separate from the political wing, to further the political aims of the SSP while allowing the LeJ to continue violent sectarian activities. While the SSP attempts to distance itself publicly from the actions of LeJ, and claims that the outfits are not formally linked, few analysts of the security situation in Pakistan believe this to be the case. The SSP and LeJ share the same sectarian beliefs, both source their members from Deobandi madrassas in Punjab and both have the same ideological goals.

Sunni militant groups such as the banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi have historically had links to the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies. While the military denies any ongoing links to such groups, Lashkar-e Jhangvi continues to operate with impunity even in areas where state authority is well established, such as Punjab province and Karachi.

Organization

The active cadre strength of the LeJ was estimated in 2003 as approximately 300. Most of these cadres are either under arrest in Pakistan or were based in the various training camps in Afghanistan, from where they regularly came to Pakistan to carry out terrorist activities. Media reports have also added that the outfit is never short of cadres, in spite of the large-scale arrests or the deaths of cadres in encounters. Media reports in September 2001 have indicated that the LeJ has been fielding newer cadres to evade arrests.

Akram Lahori was the leader of LJ but in 2002 was arrested, later convicted of sectarian killings, and was incarcerated. Lahori officially remained LJs amir and Malik Mohammad Ishaq, one of LJs founding members, was believed to have taken command since his release from prison in 2011. According to Pakistani media reporting, LJ consisted of at least eight loosely coordinated cells spread across Pakistan with independent chiefs for each cell. At least seven of these cells Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami, Asif Chotoo group, Akram Lahori group, Naeem Bukhari group, Qari Zafar group, Qari Shakeel group, and Farooq Bengali group are active in Pakistans largest city, Karachi. Many are linked to al-Qaida and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but still recognize Ishaq as the head of LJ. In particular, LJ cells also often coordinate with TTP factions in Karachi when targeting law enforcement agencies and Shia.

Members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are believed to have sheltered al-Qaida members in Pakistan and are associated with other radical Pakistani Islamic groups. One of those is Jaish-e-Mohammed [jaysh-ah-mohammad], a group accused by India of carrying out the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. Jaish-e-Mohammed also has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and is banned in Pakistan.

LeJs large recruitment network, training camps and massive resources have helped it join forces with several other militant groups, including those operating beyond Pakistan. Analysts believe LeJ developed links with al-Qaida in the early 2000s. LeJ fighters trained with al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. It was the anti-Shiite ideology, among many other factors, that brought LeJ close to the Taliban and al-Qaida. Analysts believed the group is linked with IS through an alliance of anti-Shiite ideology. IS had shown signs in 2016 of expanding in Pakistan. And analysts say LeJs extremist philosophy matches IS ideology.

US authorities designated LeJ as a foreign terrorist organization in 2003. Depriving Lashkar-e-Jhangvi of material support and funding are critical to fighting international terrorism. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, Against such enemies, America and the civilized world have only one option: Wherever terrorists operate, we will find them; wherever they dwell, we will hunt them down.

Malik Ishaq, chief of banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, always managed to get out of the custody of law enforcement agencies no matter how horrible the crimes he was alleged to have committed. That further added to his popularity. Ishaq focused on attracting young men from families that owned little or no farmland because he knew it was unlikely that they would find another job. Ishaq was arrested in 1997 and was implicated in dozens of cases. He was released on bail in July 2011 after serving a jail term of nearly 14 years. In 1997, Ishaq admitted his involvement in terrorist activity that resulted in the deaths of over 100 Pakistanis. More recently, in February 2013, Pakistani police arrested Ishaq in connection with attacks on January 10 and February 16, 2013 in the northwestern city of Quetta, Pakistan that killed nearly 200 Pakistani civilians. LJ claimed responsibility for the Quetta bombings.

We have no personal agenda. Our agenda is to defend the honor of the companions of the Holy Prophet, Ishaq declared. Dont forget that we have just put down our arms. We have not closed down our offices forever. We have just locked them for the time being. The crowd burst into slogans: Tera Ishaq, mera Ishaq, Malik Ishaq, Malik Ishaq (Ishaq is mine, Ishaq is yours, Malik Ishaq is everyones). The speech was uploaded on October 7, 2012 slightly more than a year after Ishaq was released from jail where he was being tried in dozens of murder cases. Ishaq declared Death will come whenever it is destined to. So why fear it?

On 22 February 2013 Pakistani police arrested Malik Ishaq, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, at his home in Rahim Yar Khan, just one week after his terror group claimed credit for a bombing in Quetta that killed at least 90 people. Ishaq has been accused of direct involvement in numerous terrorist attacks but had never been convicted in a Pakistani court. Pakistani police did not disclose the reason for Ishaq's arrest, nor how long he will be in detention. "It was not immediately clear on what charges he was arrested," Dawn reported.

On 06 February 2014 the US Department of State designated Malik Ishaq, one of the co-founders of Lashkar I Jhangvi (LJ), as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. The consequences of this designation included a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions with Malik Ishaq, and the freezing of all property and interests of Malik Ishaq that are in the United States, or come within the United States or the possession or control of U.S. persons. Malik Ishaq is a founding member and is the current leader of LJ.

Malik Ishaq was released 23 December 2014 after three years in jail with the Pakistan government not seeking an extension of his detention. Ishaq had been under detention for the past three years under a public security order for making provocative speeches. The government had detained Ishaq under Maintenance of Public Order (16 MPO), the same law under which key planner of 2008 Mumbai attacks Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was being held after being granted bail by an anti-terrorism court.

On 29 July 2015, Malik Ishaq was killed in a shoot-out. Pakistanin authorities said Malik Ishaq, his two sons Usman and Haq Nawaz, and 11 attackers were killed in an alleged exchange of fire with police personnel. Ishaq and his sons were arrested by the Counter-Terrorism Department a week earlier. Following this recent arrest, the police interrogated them and had taken them to Shahwala in Punjab's Muzaffargarh district to aid the police in recovering weapons and explosives. The encounter appeared to have taken place as militants attacked security forces and tried to free Ishaq who was killed in the ensuing exchange of fire. Ishaqs nondescript house just off the airport road attracted mourners in the thousands.

Tricia Bacon, Assistant Professor at American University, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 12, 2016 that " Pakistani military and civilian leaders repeated their pledge to cease the dual track policy of viewing some terrorists as having utility and seeing others as posing a threat. However, in fact, the opposite has occurred; those distinctions have hardened and grown resistant to change instead. Most importantly, the calculus of the primary institution in Pakistan that wields power over these policies remains unwavering: the Pakistani Army. Thus, it appears that there is no terrorist attack in Pakistan large enough to persuade the security establishment to abdicate the so-called good militants. By good militants I mean those groups that the Pakistani security establishment sees as having utility....

"Pakistan faces a resilient threat from the likes of the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-eJhangvi, al-Qaida, and others. Its effectiveness in dealing with these threats has been and will continue to be seriously hampered by its false dichotomization of good militants and bad militants; its vacillation between appeasement and scorched earth tactics; and its self-serving and erroneous focus on external actors as the source of its internal threat.... Deobandi militant groups allied with the Pakistani state, specifically Jaish-e-Mohamed, the Afghan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network, collaborate extensively with groups hostile to the Pakistani state, including the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. In addition, al-Qaida, though not Deobandi, is fully integrated into this militant network and works closely with these groups as well."

But by 2016 the scope of Pakistani government action against sectarian militancy had widened consistently in Punjab. There was evidence that it was no longer restricted to southern Punjab where Ishaq was based and where most of his supporters live. Shahbaz Sharif as the third-time chief minister of Punjab reigned over a police force that used "encounters" as one of its main law enforcement tools. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah argued: If a wanted criminal is killed in an encounter, the first public response is that this is a good act ... The person killed was after all a murderer and not a law-abiding citizen. Encounter killings by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) resulted from the governments inability to successfully prosecute suspects in courts of law. Lack of punishment for the policemen involved in encounters is another reason why extrajudicial killings of suspects are rampant.

Operations

A number of sources agree that LeJ is among the most violent and dangerous sectarian militant organisations that has existed in Pakistan. LeJ is believed to have been behind most of the attacks against Western targets in Pakistan since 9/11, and LeJs role in fomenting sectarian violence in Pakistan is pivotal. LJ specializes in armed attacks and bombings and has admitted responsibility for numerous killings of Shia religious and civil society leaders in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attempted to assassinate then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. The English language newspaper, The Nation, reported in September 2016 that more than 500 candidates backed by banned outfits made their way into Punjabs local governance system. LeJ also reportedly intimidates members of the countrys judicial system and retaliates against government and police officials.

The Pakistani government banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001. Since then, many of Lashkar-e-Jhangvis leaders have been arrested, killed in police confrontations, or gone underground. Its former chief, Riaz Basra, was killed in May 2002 in a shootout. In August 2002, police arrested a suspected member of the group who was allegedly planning attacks on Christian churches in the eastern Punjab province.

Sunni militant groups, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi, operate with widespread impunity across Pakistan. Although the Pakistani government banned LeJ in 2001, it has been involved in numerous high-profile terrorist attacks, including bus and church bombings, and killings of hundreds of Shiite minority members in Pakistan. The group influences local politics through affiliate parties in parliament and politicians it supports. LJ collaborates and has overlapping membership with other Pakistan-based radical Sunni groups including al-Qaida and TTP.

LeJ leader Malik Ishaq was accused of masterminding, from behind bars, the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, which wounded seven players and an assistant coach, and killed eight Pakistanis. Pakistani authorities suspected LJ collaborated with these groups in the 2009 attack on the Pakistan Army General Headquarters in Islamabad and in several attacks in 2010 targeting Pakistans Criminal Investigation Department. LJ members reportedly also have been linked to a number of high-profile kidnappings and killings of Westerners in the region, such as the 1997 killing of four US oil workers in Karachi, the 2002 kidnapping and execution of US journalist Daniel Pearl, the August 2010 kidnapping of the son-in-law of the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the August 2011 kidnapping of a US citizen that was later publicly claimed by al-Qaida. It claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Kabul which killed at least 55 Shiite worshippers during a holiday observance in 2011.

LeJ primarily directed its sectarian attacks against Hazaras in Balochistan in 2012. At least 46 people were killed in sectarian violence in Quetta up to July 2012, primarily during April and May, and in June 2012 an LeJ bomb attack on a bus transporting Shia pilgrims near Quetta killed 15 people. In December 2012 at least 19 Shia pilgrims were killed by a remotely detonated bomb in Mastung district of Balochistan, and although LeJ did not claim responsibility, a New York Times report on the incident notes that LeJ have repeatedly singled out Shias in Balochistan for attack. A subsequent report in The Express Tribune stated that Jaish al Islami, a splinter group of LeJ, claimed responsibility for the attack. Since 2012, well over 650 Shia Muslims were killed in targeted attacks across Pakistan, the majority from the Hazara community in Balochistan province.

In 2013, LJ claimed credit for some of the most deadly sectarian attacks in Pakistans history. On 10 January 2013, a snooker hall in Quetta, Balochistan Province, was hit by two blasts, first by a suicide bomber and about 10 minutes later by a car bomb, killing 92 people and injuring more than 120, mostly Shia. In February 2013, explosives hidden in a water tanker exploded in a crowded market in Hazara town, a Shia-dominated area on the edge of Quetta. The blast killed 81 people and wounded 178, stoking anger and frustration among Shia at the authorities inability or unwillingness to crack down on LJ. The group, with al-Qaida, also claimed responsibility for a June 2013 suicide attack in Quetta against a bus carrying Pakistani female university students. A female suicide bomber was one of the attackers, and at least 25 people were killed, which included a follow-on assault on a nearby hospital.

LeJ claimed responsibility for the 13 December 2015 market bombing, saying it was carried out to punish Shiites for taking sides with Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict. The group also fought alongside the Taliban when they briefly captured the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in late September 2016.



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