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The rise and ‘fall’ of Ansarul Sharia Pakistan

Updated September 09, 2017
A mugshot of Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui, an alleged ASP militant and mastermind of the attempt on the life of Sindh Assembly opposition leader Khwaja Izhar-ul-Hasan.— Dawn/File
A mugshot of Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui, an alleged ASP militant and mastermind of the attempt on the life of Sindh Assembly opposition leader Khwaja Izhar-ul-Hasan.— Dawn/File

KARACHI: Just a few months after coming into the limelight, the Al Qaeda-inspired militant group An­sarul Sharia Pakistan (ASP) comprising hardly 10 fighters has been busted with almost all its members taken into custody and being interrogated, sources confirmed to Dawn on Friday.

Police investigators and intelligence officials, who appear to have become more aggressive in chasing suspects associated with the group, found during the course of investigation that the “highly qualified” ASP militants derived their ideology from Al Qaeda and operated from their homes in the metropolis.

A security official said that the exact date of the formation of this outfit was still not known though it was initially believed that the genesis of the group could be traced to Pakistanis fighting in Syria. As this group had been operating under the umbrella of Jabhat al-Nusra, its loyalty was to the traditional Al Qaeda leadership under Ayman al-Zawahiri rather than the militant Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said the senior official on condition of anonymity.

In Karachi their activities were noticed for the first time in April when they claimed the responsibility for killing a retired colonel in the Baloch Colony area, but the ASP had been active before when its members had gunned down a guard of Police Foundation in an attack in Gulistan-i-Jauhar in February this year.

An official familiar with the investigations told Dawn that it later emerged that the Police Foundation guard had been targeted on the suspicion of being an official of regular police force.

The name and activities of this organisation first time came into notice of the law enforcers when the ASP claimed responsibility for targeting retired colonel Tahir Zia Nagi, off Sharea Faisal, in the Baloch Colony area, said a security official.

But forensic examination of arms used in previous targeted killings revealed that it had been active in Karachi since February 2017.

Initially, the militants linked with ASP tended to carry out targeted attacks with a gap of a few months. But as their confidence rose, they reduced this gap to one month and later started carrying out targeted attacks almost on a weekly basis.

“Investigators probing all the recent major terror acts in the metropolis this year arrived at two conclusions. Firstly, the assailants tended to prefer soft targets and they appeared to be more interested in saving their lives than facing resistance,” said one senior police official privy to the development.

Gang busted?

Secondly, he said, the militants preferred the areas where they could easily escape and did not go into localities where there was a security alert. “We assumed that this gang would be busted as soon as they would commit a little mistake,” said the official.

“This happened when an assassination attempt was made on the life of leader of the opposition in Sindh Assembly Khwaja Izharul Hassan,” opined the official.

A crucial role was played by the Taimuria police who chased one of the attackers on Eidul Azha, the official said, adding that the identification of the attacker helped the law enforcers bust the ASP.

Sources in police said that they did not know the exact number of militants in this outfit across the country but they assumed that their strength could be between five and 10 in Karachi.

Tech-savvy militants

The ASP through its twitter account and the internet had claimed that their members also belonged to south Punjab, Balochistan and Waziristan as well. Sources in the police said that the group had claimed responsibility for one or two terror attacks in Balochistan, but its claims remained “doubtful”.

About other findings of the investigation, the sources said some pamphlets thrown after targeted killings in the metropolis had the flag of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent on its one corner and the IS flag on the other. Since they preferred Urdu language in the pamphlets, the security officials assumed that there could be involvement of some youths of Karachi in the attacks.

The kind of language they had used in the pamphlets also gave an idea to the law enforcers that the militants were educated with sound technical knowledge of media.

The sources said that in their pamphlets, the ASP had declared that they would target only security officials and particularly in one case in the SITE area in Ramazan where four policemen were shot dead, the members of this outfit did not target a witness, instead, they allowed him to escape.

Apart from the said four terror acts (killing of the security guard in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, retired army officer in the Baloch Colony area, murder of four policemen in SITE and assassination attempt on life of the MQM leader), the officials also claimed that the ASP was involved in four other incidents.

These included targeted killing of two policemen within the limits of the New Town police, murder of DSP Traffic and his constable driver in Azizabad, a Police Qaumi Razakar on the Northern Bypass and two employees of the Federal Board of Revenue in Gulistan-i-Jauhar who were targeted over suspicions of being policemen as the victims wore uniforms resembling police uniform.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2017