July Issue 2005

By | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

The June 2005 arrests of two Pakistani-Americans in a small Californian town, Lodi, followed by a confessional statement by one of them of having been trained at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan with the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks in the United States, has embarrassed America’s most-trusted ally in its war on terror: General Musharraf.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believes that the arrests will help bust the well-organised network of an Islamic militant group in California who were being imparted military training at a Rawalpindi camp being run by a leading Pakistani militant outfit, Jamiatul Ansar (JUA), previously called Harkatul Mujahideen (HUM) and formerly led by Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil.

The confessions by the two alleged Al-Qaeda operatives in a June 6, 2005 FBI affidavit, signed by Special Agent Pedro Tenoch Aguilar and filed in a US court, belie Musharraf’s oft-repeated claims of having dismantled all Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Pakistan.

Terrorism experts maintain that the arrests and subsequent revelations highlight the threat posed by second generation Islamic militants and the persistent presence of terrorist bases in Pakistan, which is the alleged hideout of Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.

One of the men, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, is accused in an FBI criminal complaint of getting training in an Al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan to learn “how to kill Americans.” His father, 47-year-old Umer Hayat, is charged with lying about his son’s involvement and his own financing of the Al-Qaeda camp. Hamid Hayat’s affidavit says that he was preparing to attack specific targets — mainly hospitals and shopping centres. The affidavit describes the investigation as beginning on May 29, 2005, when Hamid Hayat was flying from Pakistan to San Francisco. He had travelled to Islamabad from San Francisco on April 19, 2003, arriving there on April 21 and returned to the US on May 29, 2005 after getting married.

The plane stopped in South Korea en route to San Francisco and shortly after it took off, the FBI were informed that Hamid was on the plane and that he was on a federal “no-fly” list. The plane was diverted to Tokyo, where an FBI agent questioned Hayat, then decided to downgrade his status from the no-fly list and allow him to enter the US, where he was arrested and interrogated. During the interrogations, Hamid Hayat confessed to have received terrorist training at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Rawalpindi for six months in 2003 and 2004. Having been denied bail, the father and the son are being held in the Sacramento County Jail pending further court proceedings.

According to Hamid Hayat’s statement, the Al-Qaeda training camp provided structured paramilitary training, including weapons training, explosives training, interior room tactics, hand-to-hand combat and strenuous exercise. Part of the weapons training included sessions where photographs of President Bush were pasted onto targets for trainees to shoot at. The classroom sessions also focused on ideological rhetoric against the States and other non-Muslim nations. Hayat told FBI agents that he had not participated in all facets of the training, but that he knew of all the types being offered and that “he and others at the camp were being trained to kill Americans.”

“Hamid Hayat advised that he specifically requested to come to the US to carry out his jihadi mission,” the affidavit said. While his father, Umer Hayat, continued to deny that he knew anything about terrorist camps in Pakistan, he was shown a videotape containing his son’s confession. Shortly after that, Umer confirmed that Hamid did attend a jihadi training camp in Pakistan in 2003-04. Umer further admitted having paid for Hamid’s flight and giving him a $100 monthly allowance knowing that his son was joining a jihadi training camp.

Umer said that Hamid first became interested in attending a jihadi training camp during his early teenage years, and was influenced by a classmate at the madrassah Hamid attended in Rawalpindi. Hamid was also influenced by his uncle, Atiqur Rahman, who had fought with Afghan mujahideen against the Russians. Umer claimed that Hamid was at the training camp for six months. The madrassah, Jamia Islamia, was run by Hamid Hayat’s grandfather, and Umer Hayat’s father-in-law, Qari Saeedur Rehman. According to Umer Hayat, Qari Saeedur Rehman sends students from the madrassah to jihadi training camps in Pakistan.

After completing his education at the madrassah, Hamid Hayat went to the Tamal training camp near Rawalpindi. Umer stated that due to his close familial connections to the madrassah and training camp, he was invited to observe several operational training camps. According to Umer, he was assigned a driver who drove him from camp to camp. While visiting these training camps he observed weapons and urban warfare training, physical training and classroom education.

However, Qari Saeedur Rehman, who runs the Jamia Islamia in Rawalpindi, says his grandson and son-in-law were wrongfully arrested in California and all the FBI charges against them were a pack of lies. Though Saeedur Rehman dismissed suggestions that Umer Hayat and Hamid Hayat were linked to an Al-Qaeda cell, he conceded that his religious seminary used to send students to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s — a struggle coordinated by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, with support and funding from the CIA. However, he strongly denied any current involvement with the jihadis. “We are not doing it now because it is not the policy of the present government.”

According to the FBI affidavit, Umer Hayat stated that the Jamia Islami in Rawalpindi was being run by one Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a close personal friend of Saeedur Rehman and former chief of the Harkatul Mujahideen. Having already stepped down as the Harkat chief in January 2005 due to “health reasons,” Khalil had been closely aligned to the Inter- Services Intelligence since the days of the Afghan jihad, and had been siding with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance troops even after the Allied Forces attacked Afghanistan in October 2001.

Maulana Khalil was close to Osama during the Afghan war against the Soviet occupation. He was one of the signatories of Osama’s 1998 fatwa against the US and was reported to be in the Al-Qaeda camp bombed by the American cruise missiles on August 20, 1998 near Khost and Jalalabad in Afghanistan.

Khalil, originally of the Harkatul Ansar, has reportedly maintained a jihadi facility at Dhamial in Rawalpindi for many years now. He remained openly active in jihadi activities despite government-imposed bans on him and his organisation by the Musharraf regime as well as the United States. Maulana Khalil had survived the ban in 1995 on Harkatul Ansar and renamed it Harkatul Mujahideen. When Harkatul Mujahideen was banned after September 11, 2001, he emerged as the leader of Jamiatul Ansar. In August 2004, he was taken into custody on allegations that he was still involved in training and sending militants to Afghanistan to fight the Allied Forces.

The Pakistani authorities finally arrested Khalil after the Karzai government captured a 17-year-old Pakistani jihadi, Muhammad Sohail, who was fighting alongside the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. The arrest reportedly came after months of complaints by Afghan and American officials that militant groups in Pakistan are still training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack the US-led Allied Forces and the Northern Alliance troops. During interrogations by Afghan officials, Sohail confessed that Pakistan was still allowing militant groups to train and organise insurgents to fight in Afghanistan. Sohail described his recruitment through his local mosque by Jamiatul Ansar, being run by Maulana Khalil at that time.

In his confessional statement, a copy of which was provided to Islamabad by Kabul, Sohail talked about his militant group and its leaders, and claimed they had high-level support from within the establishment. Afghan intelligence officials also found on Sohail a Jamiatul Ansar membership card and a list of phone numbers of high-level party officials. In his confessional statement, Sohail claimed he travelled with a group of 15 men from his mosque to a training camp near Mansehra. There he claimed to having received one month of training in explosives and weapons. After their training in Mansehra, Sohail claimed that he and his group went to Islamabad and met Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, at his headquarters.

Three months later, Maulana Khalil went to speak at their mosque and called up the group of youngsters to fight, Sohail said. He said that they went to Quetta, and then with four other fighters, he crossed the border and drove to Kandahar. They went to a designated hotel where they found a bag with weapons in a room. The next day, they headed to a mountain base near the town of Panjwai, west of Kandahar, where they joined some 50 fighters and became involved in combat operations, before finally being arrested. Sohail was charged with taking part in a terrorist attack on the Panjwai District center in April 2004, in which an Afghan police officer and two aid workers were killed. Sohail was later sentenced to 20-year rigorous imprisonment by a judge in Kabul.

As the Bush administration took up the Karzai government’s complaint with Islamabad, that Pakistani jihadi outfits were still involved in training and sending militants to Afghanistan, the Pakistan government decided to arrest Maulana Khalil in August 2004. However, the arrest seemed more a protective measure to keep him away from the FBI, which had expressed its desire to interview Khalil on the basis of Sohail’s confessional statement. As soon as the pressure eased off, the Musharraf administration released Maulana Khalil on December 20, 2004 after a seven-month detention.

General Musharraf’s performance on cracking down on the jihadi kingpins is hardly satisfactory: not even one major jihadi leader has either been arrested or prosecuted on terrorism charges. While ostensibly standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the US in the war on terror, it seems that Pakistan is also looking the other way as camps continue to train and churn out new cadres of terrorists.