Ties that bind: Lashkar and the global jihad
---- Praveen Swami
Muzammil Bhat, who investigators say supervised the training and execution of the November 2008 terror strikes in Mumbai, had arrived in Dubai to meet with a long-standing asset he hoped would facilitate operations inside India. But the former Nizambad commerce student, Abdul Razzak Masood, flatly refused to cooperate, saying India wasn’t the enemy. He demanded that the Lashkar, instead, focus its resources on targeting the United States, principal adversary of the Islamist movement.
Ever since the arrest of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley — charged with carrying out the reconnaissance that enabled the carnage in Mumbai — intelligence services across the world have been revisiting the Masood case. Headley’s case has made clear that the Lashkar possesses transcontinental networks of global reach and lethality. Masood’s story helps to understand the complex ties that bind the Lashkar and the global jihadist movement.
First recruited by the Lashkar in 1998, Masood became a protégé of Arif Kasmani — a Karachi-based Partition migrant who is alleged to have financed the fire-bombing of the New Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express. Kasmani counted both al-Qaeda chief Osama bin-Laden and Taliban-linked cleric Nizamuddin Shamzai among his friends. He was among the key figures who persuaded the Lashkar leadership to sign a 1998 declaration by bin-Laden, calling for a global jihad.
Far from focussing on Kashmir, the Lashkar’s cadre joined in jihadist struggles across the world. For example, Lashkar units participated in the civil war in Tajikistan, which ran from 1992 to 1997. They also fought in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a 1993 interview to the MDI magazine al-Dawa, Lashkar commander Abu Abdul Aziz — also known as Abdul Rehman al-Dosari — argued that the Bosnia campaign provided an opportunity to “make Islam enter Europe through jihad.”
By late last decade, the Lashkar’s transnational affiliations were evident. Pakistan’s Urdu-language daily Jang reported in December 1998 that jihadists from more than 50 countries had attended the Lashkar’s annual congregation at its Muridke headquarters. The invitation had proclaimed: “You can go to any jihadi frontline in the world and you will find Markaz Dawat wal’ Irshad mujahideen crushing the infidels and destroying the fortresses of the devil.”
The Pakistani state, the Lashkar leadership believed, was an ally in its jihadist project — not an enemy, as other Islamist groups increasingly came to believe. In the foundational Lashkar tract, Jihad in the Present Times, ideologue Abdul Salam bin-Mohammad argued that Pakistan’s rulers “do not at least outwardly and apparently disown Islam though they do follow a policy based on hypocrisy.” Saeed himself insisted that his organisation did “not believe in revolutionary change in Pakistan; rather we want a gradual reform.”
Pakistan’s establishment approved. In 1998, Punjab Governor Shahid Hamid, accompanied by a host of federal and provincial ministers, visited Muridke to “congratulate the Lashkar-e-Taiba on the martyrdom of their 418 mujahid in Indian-occupied Kashmir.”
Virginia residents Randall Todd Royer and Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi, both trained at Lashkar camps in 2000, began to recruit volunteers on al-Timimi’s instructions. Four of the new recruits are known to have travelled to Pakistan to train with the Lashkar. One Virginia Jihad Network member, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was eventually held in Saudi Arabia in 2003, on charges of participating in an al-Qaeda plan to crash hijacked aircraft into targets in the West.
Many of the Virginia Jihad Network members trained alongside Willie Brigitte — a French national who was arrested on charges of attempting to stage terrorist attacks in Australia. Brigitte is believed to have been given his instructions by Sajid Mir — the same Lashkar commander who is alleged to have handled David Headley. In interviews to French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Brigitte confirmed that the Lashkar ran at least one camp for foreign jihadists. French investigators established that another Paris-based Lashkar operative, Ghulam Mustafa Rama, had links with Richard Reid — the jihadist who attempted to blow up a Paris-Miami flight with explosives planted in his shoes.
British national Dhiren Bharot was held along with six other men in April 2005 for planning to bomb multiple targets in the U.S., including the headquarters of Citigroup, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Bharot, it turned out, had trained with the Lashkar in 1995, and then fought with jihadist units in Jammu and Kashmir. He became disillusioned with what he saw as a “secondary [sic.] rate jihad,” and went on to work with the al-Qaeda.
Lebanese national Assem Hammoud was held in April 2006 for planning to target Port Authority Trans-Hudson commuter trains running between New Jersey and New York. Hammoud told the Lebanese police that he had planned to travel to Pakistan to train at a Lashkar-run camp to acquire the skills needed to execute the attack. Early in 2005, British troops in Basra arrested Dilshad Ahmad, a key Lashkar commander who earlier served in Jammu and Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the Lashkar’s public posture became increasingly anti-West. On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Saeed declared that the “western world is terrorising Muslims. We are being invaded, humiliated, manipulated and looted. How else can we respond but through jihad?” He called for a “fight against the evil trio, America, Israel and India.”
By 2007, Saeed had become frankly hostile to the Pakistani establishment. In one speech reported on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa website, he demanded that Pakistan stop “trying to please the Christians and the Jews.” Later, he argued that “Muslim rulers have disappointed the Ummah [worldwide Muslim community]. It is time to wage jihad against them. They are not Muslims. They are the agents of Jews.”