ISLAMABAD: The venue was Miramshah. The attendants of the meeting included some of the most notorious militants of Pakistan. And their agenda was nothing short of explosive -- an attack on the GHQ with the aim to take military officers hostage.Shortly after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, Aqeel Ahmed alias Dr Usman alias Kamran alias Nazir Ahmed fled to Waziristan where he met the head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's Amjad Farooqui Group, Ustad Aslam Yasin and Ilyas Kashmiri.
It was at this meeting that the idea of the attack on the General Headquarters was floated, reveals the main accused of the attack, Ahmed, in a confessional statement. He along with his seven accomplices was convicted by a military court on Aug 11, 2011, for the audacious attack on the GHQ in October 2009. Shooting their way into the military's main headquarters, cowboy style, the militants took men hostage in one of the buildings. They remained there till the next morning when commandos finally entered the building, killing most of the militants and rescuing the hostages.
The brazen attack took the military and the nation by surprise; it was a successful operation from the psychological point of view.
The confessional statement of Ahmed reveals the detailed planning that went into the attack.
He also claims that in the Miramshah meeting he was reluctant to attack the army. However, the other two men argued that the Pakistan Army as an ally of the United States was a legitimate target.
Ilyas Kashmiri said that the plan was to hold army generals hostage at the GHQ till they could get detained militants released in exchange. According to the statement, Yasin gave Ahmed a list with 115 names on it; these were the men whose release was to be demanded. He also assured Ahmed that he would be accompanied by a team of trained warriors.
Ahmed also revealed that he and his accomplices used Google Earth to download the maps of GHQ on the basis of which they planned their attacks.
The planning, according to the court documents, took the team months. Apart from arranging for the weapons that were brought to Rawalpindi from Jhang, the accused made multiple reconnaissance trips to the GHQ during the summer of 2009.
However, it was Wajid Mehmood, another accused from a non-military background, who pointed out the locations where high-ranking army officials, including brigadiers and generals, could be found.
Ahmed, who is known for his involvement in a number of high-profile attacks, including those on Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, joined Harkatul Jihad Al Islami in 1999 after completing his studies and went to Afghanistan twice.
After 9/11, he returned to Pakistan after being injured and joined the Army Medical Corps (AMC) as a nursing assistant and was posted to the CMH in Rawalpindi. He was still in touch with Jihadi 'friends' then.
It was here that he became friends with another accused, Imran Siddique, who was then a soldier in the army.
According to his statement, Ahmed deserted the army in 2005 and became involved with the Amjad Farooqui group.
By August 2009, the GHQ plan was in full swing. Ahmed first rented a room at Bilal Boys Hostel, Rawalpindi, and started surveillance of GHQ's surroundings.
The weapons and explosives were brought over by Usman alias Ishfaq alias Gul Khan hidden in a CNG cylinder.
In September, Ahmed rented a house near DHA's phase II. He also acquired a van that he then proceeded to fit with army number plates, his statement reveals.
Army uniforms for eight of his accomplices cost him Rs30,000.
According to the statement, from Oct 1 to 9, 2009, Ahmed along with his accomplice Ali carried out surveillance of the area and also briefed others on the attack by using “distance measuring tool” on Google Earth.
Initially, the attack was planned for Oct 6 but this was delayed to Oct 10 as some of the accomplices fell ill.
The statement said the 10 attackers reached the GHQ via Murree Road and dispersed in different directions. The audacious attack as the men broke past the checkpost resulted in the death of five of them. The rest were able to make it in.
The statements of army officers that comprised the prosecution case highlights the element of surprise with which the attack was carried out. In fact, the bulk of the prosecution's statements focus on what they saw once the men had made it in. There is little information on what happened at the checkpost.
According to the court documents, the militants made hostage five officers and 20 civilians.
Before they took the men hostage, Ahmed also shot dead the driver of a jeep who refused to tell the militants the locations of the offices of the generals. However, the statement does not explain if the militants were looking for any specific generals or army officers.
Ahmed claimed in his statement that by 11am the militants had taken over the GHQ and the entire area was 'within their firing range' though he added that they were surrounded by the army.
The negotiations continued all night; at six in the morning, the SSG attacked and entered the building. They killed the four other militants who were watching over the hostages. Ahmed survived this attack as he was holed up in a separate room from where he was carrying out negotiations over the phone.
In his statement he explains that he then hid in an office, coming out only to join the men carrying out the rescue work; a building had collapsed and men were trying to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble.
He nearly escaped scot-free but for a security officer who identified him.
Maj Akhtar Hussain Qamar, security officer (technical) at GHQ, who witnessed the whole episode on CCTV, identified Ahmed. “I saw the whole incident on CCTV and observed that 10 attackers/terrorists had dismounted from a Suzuki van near the Tank Chowk picket. Here they attacked the picket as well as some security staff and five of them were hit, whereas other five managed to enter into the GHQ premises. I reported this whole incident to my superiors. Later I assisted SSG persons and troops in planning the counterattack and recognition of the attackers/terrorists since features/figures of accused number 1 (Ahmed) were very clear in footage.”
According to the chargesheet of Ahmed, security staff recovered nine rifles, one rocket-launcher, 16 empty magazines, 28 loaded magazines, four ammunition pouches, two fly liver-grenades, six AP Claymore mines, six rockets, six expelling charges, eight hand-grenades, eight detonators and 19 40mm grenades of Gp-25 from the militants.
The military court had sentenced Ahmed to death while his accomplice, former soldier Imran Siddique, was sentenced to life in prison. Three civilians were also sentenced to life in prison while two were sentenced to seven years each in prison.