Punjab: Punjab division of Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) has neutralised a country-wide network of Afghanistan-based Jihadist group Hizbul Ahrar (HuA), responsible for carrying out several terrorist attacks in various provinces of the country, in one of the longest intelligence-based operations (IBO) in CTD’s history.
CTD and other Pakistani intelligence agencies dismantled the HuA network just when multiple HuA terrorists were about to launch a suicide attack on the staff bus of an intelligence agency in Rawalpindi, which makes this IBO all the more hair-raising.
The HuA network had been in the cross-hairs of CTD for the last four months or more, after members of the network carried out two deadly attacks in two different provinces, targeting security forces as well as civilians. CTD arrested five Hizbul Ahrar terrorists, including a young would-be suicide bomber identified as Rizwanullah, from Rawalpindi besides eliminating their countrywide network.
CTD had started tracking the Hizbul Ahrar network on May 3, 2018 after a suicide attack was carried out on a bus in Attock carrying engineers of the NDC (National Defence Complex), killing four and injuring many others. The attack was instantly claimed by Hizbul Ahrar as part of its Operation Ibn-e-Qasim, which was officially announced by Hizbul Ahrar on April 24. Additionally, Hizbul Ahrar also released photo and name of the suicide bomber who carried out the Attock suicide blast. He was identified by Hizbul Ahrar as Khalid, alias Saddam Shinwari.
The CTD immediately started working on the case and collected vital evidence from the crime scene in Attock. Around the same time, Hizbul Ahrar terrorists carried out another suicide attack on May 17, 2018 in Nowshera and this time the target was a convoy of FC (Frontier Corps) troops, killing and injuring several innocent people. Once again, Hizbul Ahrar claimed responsibility and released photo along with the name of the suicide bomber, who was identified as Qari Usman, alias Roohul Ameen.
The evidence collected by CTD from Nowshera attack site confirmed that the same network was involved in both attacks. CTD followed the trail of this network from Punjab to KP and ultimately to Afghanistan. At the time of the arrest, the terrorists were travelling in a truck towards the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi to attack a staff bus of an intelligence agency and were carrying two suicide jackets, four hand grenades, explosives, detonators, wires, safety fuses, four pistols, and several live bullets. All of them were members of Hizbul Ahrar, the little known Jihadist group that was initially part of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar but later emerged as a separate group, founded by Mukarram Shah Mohmand from Mohmand Agency after a dispute with the Jamaatul Ahrar chief Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid Khurasani.
Now, the details of the two high profile attacks carried out by this network are being made public for the first time.
According to CTD, Imran Khurasani alias Tahir, a resident of Mohmand Agency of FATA who became an important leader within the HuA and a close lieutenant HuA’s chief Mukarram Shah, made the plan to launch several attacks in Pakistan and was designated as in-charge of the operations in the country. Imran Kharasani is currently based in Afghanistan, along with the other top leadership of the group.
As the operational commander, Imran Khurasani selected a resident of Mohmand Agency namely Sher Hassan, who had settled in Darul Islam Colony in Attock, to carry out the attack in the same city. Since Sher Hassan was already living in Attock and had become familiar with the territory, it was easy for him to carry out surveillance of the target, which in this case was a bus carrying NDC employees. Sher Hassan made multiple videos of the target and sent them to Imran Khurasani in Afghanistan, who in return sent Sher Hassan two suicide jackets through another accomplice named Mohammad (alias) via a cargo truck. The jackets were dispatched from Afghanistan and were delivered to Sher Hassan and accomplice Mohammad in Attock on April 14 by the driver and owner of the truck Maalik Jan and his brother Kamil. The jackets were shifted to multiple sites before being used in the attacks.
Around half a week before the planned attack in Attock, accomplice Mohammad brought the suicide bomber Khalid alias Saddam Shinwari from Afghanistan to the city to get him familiar with the territory and carry out final preparations for the attack. This was the same suicide bomber (photo above) who would later carry out the attack in Attock targeting the bus carrying NDC employees.
Saddam Shinwari made his way from Afghanistan to Pakistan through the Torkham border. This wasn’t the first time a terrorist dispatched from Afghanistan made his way into Pakistan via the Torkham border.
On May 2, one day before the attack, Saddam Shinwari, Mohammad and multiple other accomplices carried out a reconnaissance mission of the bus – observing its route, timing of arrival and departure, etc. The next day, on May 3, Saddam Shinwari was put into the suicide jacket and was given a hand grenade and a pistol. Then his accomplices wrote the words “Muhammad bin Qasim” on the suicide jacket and took pictures of him before taking him to the site where the attack was planned to be carried out. One such picture of Saddam Shinwari was later released (see above) by Hizbul Ahrar.
According to CTD investigation, Saddam first fired shots at the bus driver and then exploded his suicide jacket, killing the driver and three others. Mohammad and Sher Hassan witnessed the attack from a distance and quickly left the area after the explosion.
Later that week, Sher Hassan received new orders from Imran Khurasani from Afghanistan, who told Sher to carry out a reconnaissance mission of security personnel in Nowshera. Some three to four days before the May 17 blast, Mohammad introduced a new suicide bomber to Sher Hassan, namely Rooh-ul-Ameen alias Qari Usman, who has also arrived from Afghanistan through Torkham border. Sher Hassan provided Qari Usman with a suicide jacket and briefed him on the details of the target. Two days before the attack, Sher Hassan and Mohammad kept Qari Usman in a small room inside a local mosque.
On May 17, the day of the attack, Sher and Mohammad took Qari Usman to Nowshera Cantt where he waited for the convoy of security forces to arrive. When he saw the FC convoy come out of the gate and reach the railway crossing, Qari Usman went near the first vehicle carrying troops in the convoy and exploded his suicide jacket. Several security personnel were killed and injured in the attack.
The five Hizbul Ahrar terrorists arrested from Rawalpindi before they could carry out another attack included a would-be suicide bomber Rizwanullah, who had also come from Afghanistan and stayed in Peshawar before coming to Rawalpindi to carry out the attack, according to the CTD investigation.
The CTD IBO is being hailed as one of the best as well as one of the longest operations in the department’s history, for not only successfully thwarting a major terrorist attack in Rawalpindi but also bringing down a network of deadly terrorists involved in several attacks in Pakistan.