The recent arrests of a group of Pakistani-Americans in the small California town of Lodi in the United States – and the confession by one of having trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan – places a question mark over the trusted American ally, President General Pervez Musharraf‘s real, as opposed to his professed, commitment to the war against terrorism.
The confessions by the two alleged al-Qaeda operatives contained in a June 6, 2005 FBI affidavit filed in a US court belie the Pakistan government’s oft-repeated claims of having dismantled the al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in the country. The arrests and subsequent revelations further highlight the threat posed by second-generation Islamic extremists and the presence of their bases in a country alleged to be the hideout of Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
One of the men arrested, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, has admitted he was trained in an al-Qaeda camp near the Pakistan city of Rawalpindi for six months in 2003 and 2004 and taught “how to kill Americans” He also confessed he lied to FBI agents about it.
His father, 47-year-old Umer Hayat, was charged with lying about his son’s involvement and his own financing of the al-Qaeda course. Umer further admitted that he paid for Hamid Hayat’s flight to Pakistan and gave him an allowance of $100 per month, knowing that his intention was to attend a jihadi training camp
The training camp Hamid Hayat attended is operated by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a close personal friend of Saeed Ur Rehman, Umer Hayat's father-in-law. Umer Hayat stated that due to his close familial connections with the leaders of the training camp, he was invited to observe several operational training installations. He was given a driver who drove him from camp to camp.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Pakistan sources report that the same Maulana Fazalur Rehman, happens to be the opposition leader of the National Assembly of Pakistan and head of the religio-political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). However, well-informed government sources claim that the Rawalpindi training camp is run by a man with almost the same name, one Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who heads the notorious Pakistani Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM).
Not quite the same man, but almost…
The HuM leader, Maulana Khalil, has been closely aligned to Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), since the days of the Afghan War. In fact, he sided with the Taliban even after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 after al Qaeda’s 9/11 terror attacks.
Maulana Khalil’s association with Osama bin Laden goes back to the time when it was acceptable because the al Qaeda chief was leading the war against Soviet troops. His subsequent association with bin Laden came to light in August 20, 1998, when America bombed the al-Qaeda training camps near Khost and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, in retaliation for the bombings of US East African embassies that year.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil was later taken into custody by the Pakistani authorities after Afghan troops captured a 17-year old Pakistani terrorist, Muhammad Sohail, fighting alongside the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
His arrest came after months of complaints by Afghan and American officials that militant groups in Pakistan were training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack American and Afghan forces.
Under interrogation by Afghan officials, Sohail claimed Pakistan was still allowing Islamic groups to train and organize insurgents to fight in Afghanistan. Sohail described his recruitment through his local mosque by Jamiatul Ansar, the new name for the Harkatul Mujahideen run by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil at that time.
In his confession, a copy of which Kabul sent to Islamabad, Sohail said his group and its leaders enjoyed high-level support from within the establishment. Afghan intelligence officials further found on Sohail a Jamiatul Ansar membership card and a list of phone numbers of high-level party officials.
Sohail claimed he had been taken with a group of 15 others from his mosque to a training camp near Mansehra in the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan which borders Afghanistan. There he received one month’s training in explosives and weapons. The group then traveled to Islamabad and met Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, the leader of Jamiatul Ansar, at his headquarters.
Pakistan authorities accused by 17-year old terrorist
Three months later, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil told them must go and fight and sent them to Quetta, provincial capital of Pakistani Balochistan. Then, with four other fighters, the young terrorist crossed the border and was driven to the Afghan city of Kandahar. The group was led to a designated hotel and found a bag of weapons in their room.
Next day, they headed to a mountain base near the town of Panjwai, west of Kandahar, where they joined some 50 fighters and took part in combat operations, before finally being arrested.
Sohail was charged with taking part in a terrorist attack on the Panjwai District center in April 2004, in which an Afghan police officer and two aid workers were killed. He was subsequently sentenced to a 20 years in prison with hard labor by a judge in Kabul.
Washington then took up the Karzai government’s complaint based on Sohail’s revelations with the Pakistani authorities. Islamabad thereupon rounded up Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil in August 2004.
However, the arrest was more like protective detention, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources. Its purpose was to keep Khalil out of FBI hands. The US federal bureau had demanded his handover to answer Sohail’s accusations. When the heat was off, the Pakistani authorities let him go. He was freed December 20, 2004 after seven months in detention.
Three important Pakistani Islamic radical leaders with al-Qaeda links are now at large. They other two are Hafiz Mohammad Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. All three were, and remain, key players in the Kashmir conflict. Musharraf’s performance in the war on terror is called into question by his benign handling of these Islamic terrorist kingpins.