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Terror group sees Islamabad as a lucrative city for extortions

October 07, 2013

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It was in September 2012 when the police arrested three people in the capital city and unearthed the TTP’s direct involvement in receiving extortions.    — File Photo by Reuters
It was in September 2012 when the police arrested three people in the capital city and unearthed the TTP’s direct involvement in receiving extortions. — File Photo by Reuters

For the last couple of years, the capital city has seen an alarming increase in extortion cases. Unable to trace the culprits, the police say an outlawed terror group is behind the crime.

The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has a hand in all the small and big extortion incidents. The terror outfit is involved in extorting money from rich people directly and indirectly, a police officer told Dawn on the condition of anonymity.He added that the TTP was found directly involved in targeting big businessmen, traders and professionals, especially doctors. But these cases were not so rampant.

The disturbing factor is that the TTP was also indirectly encouraging small groups to collect extortions and share the money with it. This racket of splinter groups has widened its activities across the city but most of the cases are not reported to the police on time, he said.

The TTP started getting extortions after its traditional source of foreign funding was either plugged or reduced. In the early days, militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan used to receive funds from abroad.

Though the militant groups still receive funds from other countries, they are not sufficient to carry out terror activities. This has forced them to look for other sources of income inside the country, with extortion, kidnapping for ransom and bank robberies being the most lucrative of them.

It was in September 2012 when the police arrested three people in the capital city and unearthed the TTP’s direct involvement in receiving extortions. The network had demanded Rs 6 million as extortion from a trader in the Blue Area.

During investigation, the accused disclosed that they collected extortions from traders and transferred the money to Manchester, UK, through Hundi for onward delivery to the terror network.

In June this year, traders of Sabzi Mandi informed the police that a group of Afghan nationals was forcing extortions from them, but when the police registered a case, the group escaped from the area. During investigation of the case, it was revealed in August that some people in Khana Pul, Sihala and Mandi Mor areas also collected millions of rupees every month and diverted them to militant outfits, the officer added.

The second direct involvement of the TTP in extortion came to light when a business centre in Sihala was attacked a week back. This was the second attack on the centre since July 26.

On June 17, Mohammad Raja Asif, the owner of the centre, received a telephone call in which the caller threatened him to pay Rs100 million. Later, he continued receiving similar calls from different local and Afghan numbers.

On July 26, his business centre was attacked with hand grenades in which his office was damaged. The next day – July 27 – he received another call from an Afghanistan-based number and the caller told him that the attack was the result of his failure to pay the extortion sum.

The caller again threatened him to pay the Rs100 million. After this, the businessman approached the Sihala police who registered a case but failed to trace the calls.

Then, on September 30, two motorcycle riders pulled up outside the centre and lobbed two hand grenades into the building. Besides damaging the centre, the attack also left a security guard injured.However, the police denied the occurrence of the incident as it left them red-faced because of their failure to trace and arrest the extortionists after being informed about the threat.

The bomb disposal squad reported that the hand grenades were made locally.

When contacted, Sub-Inspector Mohammad Hanif, the investigating officer of the first attack, said the culprits were still at large. There is no detail of the local and Afghan numbers used by the extortionists, he added.

The police approached the local mobile service providers and an intelligence agency to get details of the numbers and the locations from where the calls had been made, the SI said. Even though they could not help investigators reach the callers, the police maintained that the culprits belonged to a terror group.

An IT (information technology) expert in the capital police told Dawn that legally Afghan SIM (subscriber’s identification module) can be operated on roaming in Pakistan if the Afghan mobile service provider has any agreement with a local mobile company. But investigations into various terrorism, kidnapping for ransom and extortion cases have showed that militants were using numbers with the help of grey traffic – illegal exchanges – which worked through the internet.

As a result, the details of the numbers under their use and their locations always remained untraceable, the expert said.

Another senior police officer close to the investigation told Dawn that keeping in view other extortion cases, the police believed that the TTP was behind the threatening calls made to Mr Asif.

He said the Taliban either used to drop letters at the residences of their targets or called them for extortion.

The police have found some leads which show that the calls made to Mr Asif were made from the tribal areas. He said it also showed that the callers were affiliated with the militant group.

The police officer said majority of extortion cases remained unreported. It is only in some cases, especially in which terrorists issue threats to the victims, when police are approached, he added. In the case of Mr Asif, the police only came to know about the extortion calls when his business centre was attacked, he claimed.