• Interior minister, Nacta chief say TTP used Afghan soil to target Chinese engineers; 11 suspects taken into custody so far
• Say alleged bomber was an Afghan national, had support from ‘facilitators inside Pakistan’
• Islamabad will take ‘unilateral steps’ if lack of cooperation persists, Naqvi warns Kabul

KARACHI: The leadership of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakis­tan (TTP), based in Afgha­nistan, and hostile foreign intelligence agencies were behind the March 26 suicide attack on Chinese engineers in Bisham, the country’s security czar said on Sunday.

At a press conference in Lahore, Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said the attack, in which five Chinese engineers and their Pakistani driver were killed, was planned in Afghanistan and executed with the help of handlers and facilitators based in Pakistan.

He added that the attack was “completely operated” from Afgha­nistan and planned to specifically target Chinese personnel in Pakistan.

“TTP leadership planned this attack as a flagship project, and enemy intelligence agencies paid them heavily for the attack,” the minister said, without giving more details.

The minister demanded the Afghan interim government arrest three alleged terrorists named Bakhtiar Shah, Qari Abdullah and Khan Lala, along with TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud, its Malakand Commander Azmatullah and the entire leadership of the outlawed group.

“We want good ties with Afgha­nistan, but for that it is important they arrest these terrorists, prosecute them or hand them to us.”

The revelations are expected to further strain bilateral ties between the two neighbours, as Islamabad has repeatedly pressed Kabul to act against TTP terrorists based in Afghanistan.

Despite repeated requests, the interim Afghan government has not taken measures to prevent militants from launching attacks from these safe havens.

The issue became more pronounced after the TTP escalated violent activities following the collapse of peace talks brokered by the Afghan Taliban in late 2022.

“Pakistan has raised this issue with the interim government of Afghanistan and stressed that they should act against the terrorists operating there, but so far, we have not received any good results,” Mr Naqvi said.

He said terrorists were “exploiting the weakness of the interim Afghan government”.

When asked what Pakistan would do if the Afghan government doesn’t cooperate, Mr Naqvi said then “the government will take a unilateral decision”.

Timeline

The interior minister’s remarks came almost two weeks after Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif said the attack was planned in Afghanistan, and the suicide bomber was also an Afghan national.

National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) coordinator Rai Tahir, who also addressed the press conference, confirmed that the attacker, identified as Muttaqi alias Taqi, hailed from Afghanistan.

Security forces have so far arrested 11 suspects, including the attacker and their alleged Pakistani handlers.

They were identified as Adil Sheh­baz, Shafiq Qureshi, Zahid Qureshi, Nazeer Hussain, Faizullah, Fasihu­llah, Imran Swati, Sakha­ullah, Abd­u­llah, Abdul Rehman and Kamal Khan.

The suspects are in the custody of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Counter Terrorism Department, and a chargesheet will be submitted to the court after their remand is completed, the Nacta chief added.

While giving a timeline of the events leading up to the attack, Mr Rai said the attacker had travelled from Afghanistan four months before the attack and lived with his alleged Pakistani handlers — Adil Shazeb and Shafiq Qureshi — who prepared him for the attack.

The two men were identified through the data recovered from the alleged suicide bomber’s partially burnt mobile phone confiscated by security forces from the attack site.

According to the Nacta chief, Shahzeb was in contact with Hazrat Bilal, who was appointed as the shadow governor of the so-called Hazara wilaya by TTP chief Mehsud in January.

“The appointment was made with the sole purpose of attacking Chinese nationals.”

In Afghanistan, two individuals, Khan Lala and Qari Asadullah, allegedly planned the attack and got approval from the TTP chief.

The alleged suicide bomber was trained in Afghanistan’s Kunar province and was one of the four terrorists who crossed into Pakistan in Nov 2023, the Nacta chief said.

Their hideout was raided by security forces, but Muttaqi managed to flee beforehand and arrived in Swat.

Between Dec 2023 and Jan 2024, the attacker moved from Swat to Haripur and was allegedly facilitated by Faseehullah, Mr Rai said.

On Jan 5, Faizullah took Muttaqi from Haripur and handed him over to Shahzeb in Mansehra, who kept him in the house of Shafiq Qureshi in Uggi area of Mansehra till the day of the attack.

The Nacta chief added that the car used in the attack was a Toyota Vitz, manufactured in Japan and exported to Afghanistan.

He said a Malakand-based car showroom owner allegedly helped TTP militants in smuggling the car, fitted with explosives, into Pakistan from Chaman.

The man, identified as Imran Swati, who was contacted by the TTP, agreed to do the job for Rs 260,000.

Swati’s agents collected the car in Chaman and drove it to Zhob in northern Balochistan. The car then crossed into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was collected by Swati from the Darazinda area of Dera Ismail Khan. He took the car to Chakdara, where his showroom was located.

The smuggling was done between March 1 and 15, Mr Rai added.

When Mr Naqvi was asked how a car fitted with explosives managed to travel around 1,000km inside Pakistan without being detected, he said security officials stopped the vehicle for checking, but no suspicion was raised.

He claimed action had been taken against officials over negligence in checking the car thoroughly.

New SOPs for Chinese’ security

Mr Naqvi reiterated that Pakistan “attached great importance to its relationship with China” and the threats emanating from across the Western border were “compromising the security of Chinese nationals”.

The security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan was of utmost importance for the government and “we have devised new SOPs for that purpose and they are being strictly implemented”.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

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