ISLAMABAD: Suleman spent years targeting members of the Shia community in his home country of Pakistan as a member of sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Now he is on his way to a new sectarian battleground, Syria, where he plans to join rebels battling President Bashar Assad's regime.

The short and stocky man, who identified himself using only his first name for fear of being targeted by authorities, is one of an increasing number of militants who have left Pakistan for Syria in recent months.

The fighters have contributed to a growing presence of extremists and complicated US efforts to help the rebels. Many fighters like Suleman believe they must help Syria's Sunni majority defeat Assad's Alawite regime.

The presence of religious extremists in Syria looms large over US efforts to help the rebels, especially when it comes to providing weapons that could end up in the hands of America's enemies. The extremists have also sparked infighting with more secular rebels concerned about their increasing power. Most of the foreign fighters in Syria are from Arab countries, including Al Qaeda militants from Iraq on the rebel side and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon on the regime's side. The flow of militants from Pakistan adds a new element to that mix.

Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman Omar Hamid Khan said provincial authorities throughout Pakistan deny that militants have left the country for Syria. But three Pakistani intelligence officials based in the tribal region that borders Afghanistan, as well as militants themselves, say the fighters leaving Pakistan for Syria include members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the LeJ.

The fighters fall mainly into two categories. One includes foreign combatants from places like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and likely the Middle East who came to Pakistan's tribal region to fight US-led forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and are now heading to Syria because they view it as the most pressing battle, said the Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media. This group includes members Al Qaeda who trained the Pakistani Taliban in areas such as bomb-making and are now moving on to the battlefield in Syria, said Pakistani Taliban fighters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Neither the intelligence officials nor the Pakistani militants were able to provide the total number of fighters who have left the country for Syria, or the route they were taking to get to the Middle East. An activist based in northern Syria, Mohammad Kanaan, said there are Pakistanis fighting in his area but not in large numbers. ''Most … are Arab fighters from Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia,'' he said Sunday. ''But we have seen Pakistanis and Afghans recently as well.''

The second group leaving Pakistan includes mostly domestic members of the Pakistani Taliban and LeJ who are heading to Syria, saying they are being so closely monitored by Pakistani authorities that it makes it difficult for them to carry out operations at home, said a Pakistani Taliban fighter who identified himself only as Hamza.

These militants are under surveillance because they have been detained previously in connection with attacks, or are on Pakistan's radar because of their importance in their organisations, Hamza said. The group includes Suleman, who was detained during a 2009 attack on an intelligence building in the eastern city of Lahore that killed at least 35 people. He was eventually released, he told the AP in an interview before leaving for Syria more than a week ago.

Suleman is one of about 70 militants who have been sent to Syria in the last two months by a network jointly run by the Pakistani Taliban and LJ, Hamza said. The militants came from various parts of Pakistan, including the provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and the southern city of Karachi, Hamza said.

Another group of 40, including Hamza, is expected to leave in the coming weeks, he said. These militants are not going to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, the most powerful Islamic militant group in Syria, Hamza said. But he did not know which group they would join. The head of the network sending these militants is a former leJ leader named Usman Ghani, Hamza said.

Another key member is a Pakistani Taliban fighter named Alimullah Umry, who is sending fighters to Ghani from KP, Hamza said.The militants are traveling to Syria by various routes, and some are taking their families. The most closely watched are secretly taking speed boats from Balochistan's coast to the Omani capital of Muscat and then traveling onward to Syria, Hamza said.

Others are flying from Pakistan to various countries, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan, and then making their way to Syria. The financing is coming from sources in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Hamza said. Suleman flew to Sudan with his wife and two children using fake passports, he said. He will leave his family in Sudan and then travel to Syria. There are families of other Pakistanis who have gone to Syria already living in Sudan and being taken care of, Suleman said. A member of Jamaat-e-Islami said a small number of its followers have also gone to fight in Syria, but not through any organised network. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted by the government.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (40)

Umer
July 15, 2013 2:54 pm

This is surely export of terrorism. Pakistan beware.

Umer
July 15, 2013 2:56 pm

This can surely be included in the manpower export policy that Govt of Pakistan is drafting!

Hancock
July 15, 2013 4:12 pm

See that's a proxy American Army ,,,,,, who's now going to help another newly created so called FSA (Free Syrian Army) ........ Actually, they first are liberators and when the work has been taken from them then they are terrorist.

Amazing Super power games

G.A.
July 15, 2013 5:04 pm

These religious groups have a thorn around Muslim necks for at least 500 years if not more. They are readily used as pawns by global powers when needed and keep Muslim civilization dysfunctional and divided. And now they are on social media.

SadPakistani
July 15, 2013 5:06 pm

Good! Let them all go and fight in Syria so that we may live in peace. All the countries have been using Pakistan for their proxy wars and now they have found a more bloody arena.

misbah
July 15, 2013 5:17 pm

let them all leave and never return.they should die at the hands of syrian forces

saythetruth
July 15, 2013 6:10 pm

The article is baseless. No way in the world that I will ever support Taliban, they are brought nothing but problems for Pakistan. But let's be fair the article is written to mislead people. Many problems with the article 1. Taliban have no means to get to Syria. Last time I checked Syria is 10000's of miles away from Pakistan by road. 2. Taliban don't have any means to travel by Sea or by Air. 3. Many countries between Pakistan and Syria, chances of somebody getting to Syria in one piece highly unlikely.

I really don't understand the purpose of the article it is misleading and the writer is pushing someone's agenda.

AB Uzair
July 15, 2013 7:02 pm

I am sure there are thousands of Pakistanis around the world who have the means to provide relief to the Syrians. If a few dozen have gone there for dubious reasons, why can't a few thousands do something to provide relief? Can't a few hundred Pakistani doctors or para-medics for example, go there (or to neighboring Jordan and Turkey) to help the Syrians out with medicines and treatment. If they are already helping out, can please DAWN point us to their stories too?

Syeed
July 15, 2013 7:06 pm

When the war in Syria is over they will return to Pakistan with plentiful of their friends. In the mean time their brothers will not let people live in peace.

Bob
July 15, 2013 7:35 pm

who is supporting them to get there & how..... think about it, Syria is not next door...... think people think....

BRR
July 15, 2013 8:12 pm

These are like the clones in Star wars where they were deployed to fight battles whereever they were needed. The UAE and Saudi have manipulated the jihadis for their own benefit - funded them and organized them for two decades, and now deploying them to fight the Shias and others who they currently oppose. The Pak govt. is totally ineffective in stopping these militants from travelling, and the ISI is just happy to play along with such conspiracies. Ultimately, the demise of Pakistan will be due to these roving bands of militants who love nothing but hate humanity, all in the guise of dying for Sharia.

Burki
July 15, 2013 8:27 pm

provide a peaceful exit corridor to these nutwigs, heck even shower rose petals on them with some tribal music playing in the background as these war mongers leave our soil, hopefully never to come back again.

A Shah
July 15, 2013 8:52 pm

Whatever we touch we destroy.

mirza
July 15, 2013 8:53 pm

I hope and pray that these nut heads are killed in Syria and never ever return to Pakistan. Taking other things into consideration, I would like to say that no one should arm these rebels because they will in turn come back and haunt all of us here in the areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Abbas
July 15, 2013 9:06 pm

Only a fool would talk with these killer machines. Sadly they have been created by our ruling regime and now let loose on other poor countries to make Israel stronger in the region as Syria is the only Arab country that does not have relations with Israel, whereas egypt, jordan, turkey all enjoy relations.American would like to aid its proxy child by weakening muslims opposition. Sadly Pakistani Government is quietly supporting American cause.They lie to us all the time and It will defame Paksitan further.

karur
July 15, 2013 9:19 pm

Pakistan has such a huge talent pool of Jihadis that can be airlifted at short notice to the right bidder. This latest development in Syria is proof that thie is now an industry. Just like the shipping industry operates with crews flying around the world to meet the ship, Jihadis too are recruited from the best. Pakistan can claim to have the best talent pool

Mohammad Ali
July 15, 2013 9:33 pm

God bless President Assad and Syrian competent forces, I am sure they will not come back. Gone for Good.

NASAH (USA)
July 15, 2013 9:35 pm

Good riddance!

akram
July 15, 2013 10:13 pm

We should arrange a ship for all these militants fill it up and torpedo it at sea.

Shakeel A. Khan Laevanay
July 15, 2013 10:22 pm

@G.A.: We have so many people spitting out children that they cannot maintain that the vacancy created by this filth will easily be filled up... sadly..

eskay
July 15, 2013 10:22 pm

Good Riddance from Bad Rubbish.................... What an irony Taliban and Americans have the same agenda. They should also be exported to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain .UAE etc. Let these countries taste their own medicine.......

Sikander Khan
July 15, 2013 10:44 pm

@misbah: iA

NHM
July 15, 2013 11:00 pm

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Shahpur
July 15, 2013 11:44 pm

I think Pakistan has something important to export, the the product of Zia, and Osama.

Amjad Wyne
July 16, 2013 12:14 am

@misbah: I hope they die before they get to Syria.

Sarwat Hasan
July 16, 2013 12:19 am

Nawaz Sharif, lets see what you can do about it.. I bet you are too busy else where and you can't do anything to stop it. Here is your chance to proof that you are competent.

Amjad Wyne
July 16, 2013 12:19 am

@Umer: What do you mean by "beware". Pakistan has no control over these criminals. They do not travel on Pakistani passports and they do not ask for Syrian visas.

imran
July 16, 2013 12:56 am

'The group includes Suleman, who was detained during a 2009 attack on an intelligence building in the eastern city of Lahore that killed at least 35 people. He was eventually released.' So my question is, why on earth are people like this released ?

ED
July 16, 2013 2:14 am

THEY WILL BE BACK AFTER SYRIA AND THEY WILL BRING THEIR FRIENDS FROM SYRIA WITH THEM.

Jahangir
July 16, 2013 3:16 am

Unlike Pakistani forces Assad's army men are loyal to the state, I hope they deal well with Pakistani militants at least, if not others.

Satyameva Jayate
July 16, 2013 3:52 am

What you produce, so shall you export.

Mustafa
July 16, 2013 11:05 am

@saythetruth:

Yes they do have means to get to Syria, well they got to Libya. Look up Air America.

Yousaf
July 16, 2013 1:22 pm

Finally a Pakistani made product ready for export. What a sad news.

ahmedj
July 16, 2013 1:35 pm

How a BBC Urdu service news is being circulated and supported by Dawn and look at the comments as naive gullible people follow and believe straight away with out giving it a thought. Why would Taliban support western governments agenda of fighting Assad's government. With such a news, It seems that West and Taliban have joined together with same goal and helping each other on same battlefield. Taliban force in numbers is also missing in the article which shows authenticity of the research and effort put in to show the true picture. How could an armed fighting contingent or group (presumably in hundreds) passed through several countries and crossed borders without being checked by local authority and their forces. The article also doesn't mention the deployment area of Taliban on Syrian soil. Syria is a big country and exact area of their presence should have been mentioned. Also there is no mention of Syrian rebel leaders accepting such a presence. The only objective evidence mentioned in the article is the name Suleman who is short and stocky man and identified himself using only his first name for fear of being targeted by authorities. Is this evidence enough for such a flimsy report.

One must question the motive. Why this news is being circulated on BBC's Urdu service only and not on main news channels of BBC. Is it provocation of already disturbed Shia Sunni conflict in Pakistan. Truly there is something new cooking for gullible audience.

Siddiqui
July 16, 2013 2:11 pm

"This group includes members Al Qaeda who trained the Pakistani Taliban in areas such as bomb-making and are now moving on to the battlefield in Syria, said Pakistani Taliban fighters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "

Journalism at its best!!!

mr mole
July 16, 2013 2:28 pm

This is very worrying. If the government knows all this and the agencies then why is nothing being done about it. Are they just watching what they're doing?

Zubair Khan
July 16, 2013 2:54 pm

International media is also highlighting it. When Paksitani elite is denying a broad day light fact how it can close extremist manufcturing factories of Pakistan.

Adi
July 16, 2013 3:40 pm

@Burki: Music is haram

Yawar
July 16, 2013 11:37 pm

If only these religious extremists would seek to please Allah, and Allah alone, instead of their fellow men, including family members, friends, tribesmen, and religious leaders, things would be much better.

akram
July 18, 2013 1:58 pm

@Adi: with you lot everything is haram, I am waiting for you lot to ban oxygen.

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