British counter-intelligence seem to have averted a major terrorism attack attempt on as many as 10 civil aircraft using common over-the-counter chemicals used by most people that officials say would have been worse than September 11 twin tower bombing. The attack was aimed at bringing down 10 US bound planes in the middle of the Atlantic with no possibility of rescue of emergency landing. Sources say that the terrorists targeted United Airlines, American Airlines, and Continental Airlines flights from Britain to major US destinations such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Experts say that such plans had existed since 1990 when two prominent Jihadis had moved to The Philippines to organize liquid-based bombs on planes to kill a targeted 4000 civilians but failed in 1994 because of an accident in their apartment turned bomb factory alerted authorities.
A day before the story broke out and UK officials swung into action, Pakistan
arrested Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and tipped off UK officials of this major plot. But they continue to deny that the two were connected even while conceding an “al Qaeda connection” and that a “key person” identified to be a British national is being along with 6 others (5 Pakistanis and 1 British national).
This incident is the first time where Pakistan based terrorist groups espousing support for the Kashmiri cause has linked up with terrorist groups of North Africa, recruited Muslim youth born or naturalized in United Kingdom, and tried to pull off an incident using common peroxide-based chemicals solution that can be assembled on a plane and detonated with everyday carry-on items such as a disposable camera or a music player. The size, scope, diversity, imagination, and boldness of the plan eliminate pretensions of being focused on the Kashmiri issue or acting alone.
UK Intelligence officials have so far arrested 24 suspects (including 1 woman with an infant and 2 were converts to Islam) and most of them are natural or naturalized UK nationals of Pakistani origin. Aged between 17 and 35, they have traveled to Pakistan, met al Qaeda operatives, LeT
operatives, received training on chemical bomb making, and terrorism. For the
first time, one individual of Indian origin and working with
Jet Airways in London and a son of a non-Resident Indian have been included and arrested for being part of the plot. Another of those arrested already worked at Heathrow Airport.
Early investigations indicate that monies collected from the UK for so-called charitable purposes and for disasters like the earthquake in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) have been used to fund this terrorist event. The Bank of England reported that they had frozen the assets and bank accounts of 19 of those accused
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao claims that the arrests of the 7 (2 Britons and 5 Pakistanis) made in Karachi, Lahore, and the Pak-Afghan border, Pakistan revealed the plot and his country “shared the information with British authorities, which led to further arrests in Britain.” Sherpao describes the 5 Pakistanis as “facilitators” to the plot. Later, a Pakistani intelligence officer, who did not want to be identified, said his country has arrested another 10 Pakistanis in connection to this plot.
British Home Secretary John Reid said his country was grateful for Pakistan's cooperation and while officials believed the main suspects were in custody, the threat level in the UK remained at “critical” or the highest level. Unidentified British officials said that when the Pakistani arrests were made, their terrorist counterparts in Britain were given the go-ahead to execute their attacks immediately. They claim they had intercepted this message and decoded the information and moved in to prevent the attacks. While not disclosing the location of their internment, British authorities said that the suspects are being interrogated—amended British law allows suspects to be questioned for 28 days without a formal charge although permission is required to extend detention beyond 48 hours.
It seems as if Pakistan is fully exploiting this incident to win major diplomatic scores. A spokesperson from the External Affairs Ministry said that Islamabad now saw itself as part of the special relationship linking its feared
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) services to those of the UK and the US and that Kashmir may be a reason that is radicalizing British youth. It is ironic that while the Mumbai blasts had the same accused belonging to the LeT, there was little or no cooperation from Islamabad, London, or Washington and now this plot makes them all close confidantes. India has demanded that Pakistan act against Saeed and the Lashkar for their role in the Mumbai serial bombing of July. Till recently, responding to a
US ban on Jamat-ul-Dawa (JuD) based on Indian inputs,
President Pervez Musharraf had insisted that these were “charity organizations” and cannot be shut down “just because someone does not agree with their religion.” The US’s main coordinator on terrorism even admitted that
Pakistan is not doing enough on terror and with increasing
pressure on the US Government to punish Pakistan, the
US had cut its aid to that country.
It is clear that either Musharraf knows nothing about the activities of the ISI or that he believes that it alright for the activities to succeed against India but needs to be stopped if targeted against the West. By stopping activities against the West, he becomes a hero, can win negotiating points to get more economic and military aid, and stop unending criticism of Pakistan by Western Government over its terror program. Commentators say that this incident has enable Pakistan to regain its much-weakened credibility as a “reliable and valuable” ally in the war on terror. British Prime Minister Tony Blair personally called Musharraf to thank him for his “valuable help” and a British Foreign Ministry statement applauded “Pakistan’s strong commitment to fight international terrorism.”
Pakistan is now also cleverly absolving itself as the warehouse of terrorism by reminding the world that the thousands of so-called Mujahideen indoctrinated against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan “was certainly not by Pakistan.” They say that these individuals “have developed their own agenda” and “floating around the region.” While this
claim is true, such “floating around,” retooling, and redirection cannot happen in vacuum and that “agenda” came from the so-called strategic depth policy of Pakistan.
Even in this specific case, Pakistan has continued to support LeT and its political parent JuD, allowing volunteers to work under its aegis for supposed relief work for October 2005 earthquake victims but Balakot in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) known as an LeT stronghold. Using the earthquake relief work as a cover, those arrested were also taken to camps run by Jundullah, a jihadi organization believed to be close to the Al-Qaeda, in the Waziristan area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. A terrorist held in 2005 for planning terrorist strikes in the US, Hamid Hayat, is also known to have trained at an Al-Qaeda linked camp in Balakot, run by Harkat ul-Mujahideen chief Fazl-ur-Rahman Khalil. Waziristan is now viewed as a terrorist spawning region and now houses the new
Taliban threatening to take over Pakistan.
Apparently, they then visited Syed Omar Sheikh in a jail in Sindh. Sheikh, a British national, was one of the three terrorists released by India in exchange of hijacked passengers in 1999. After denying his existence in Pakistan for a long time, Musharraf arrested him for the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and is due to be executed.
Experts now aver that terror groups claiming to operate against India and jihadi elements fighting the U.S. and Europe come from the same supply pool. Right-wing seminaries in Pakistan are being used as mechanisms to manufacture jihadis for common use and seem to have violated ISI’s direction that jihadi action is directed only at India. While Pakistan has been acting terrorist groups that are seen as inconvenient,
anti-Musharraf, and out of control, they have allowed those who toe their line to continue operations with impunity.
A very interesting pattern that is emerging is the ability and eagerness of the al Qaeda, LeT, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to seed and develop localized groups in target countries so they will look, behave, and act normal but deliver a debilitating punch. Also, as seen in the investigations of the Varanasi and Mumbai blasts, Pakistan is increasingly using the porous border with Bangladesh to infiltrate jihadi elements into India. At the same time, they are developing Madrasas to inculcate hate, terror, and jihadi philosophy among Muslim children, unemployed youth, and disaffect populations.
India can no longer rely on US and UK to help bring diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to curb terrorism against India. With a well-thought out strategy being implemented, India must bring about stronger measures to regulate Madrasas, monitor remittances of funds to religious groups, institute strong punishments to terror crimes, and make punishment automatic for such offenses with no chance of parole, retrial and review process, or leniency. For example, possession of a gun without license, wearing Burkhas by men to conceal identity, or advocating violence or terror must be a severely punishable offense. Also, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have invalid or counterfeit visas or have overstayed in India must be automatically imprisoned for extended periods of time without chances of parole.
India should also look at surgical commando or unmanned aerial drone-based strikes within Pakistan to destroy terrorist camps or terrorists.