Law enforcers sitting on intel regarding ‘black sheep’ among madressahs

Students of a seminary in Islamabad recite verses from the Holy Quran. — AP/file

ISLAMABAD: It’s either that law enforcement agencies do not trust information gathered by their own departments, or that they just don’t take such intelligence seriously. Nothing else can explain the blatant disregard for the unchecked movement of terrorists and their facilitators in the seminaries of the twin cities that has been displayed by the authorities thus far.

In a press conference held on Jan 4, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had stated that most religious seminaries had nothing to do with terrorism. But on Jan 17, in committing to rooting out the black sheep from amongst their ranks, madressah representatives conceded – albeit implicitly – that they may have to do quite a lot of in-house cleaning before they can claim to have a clean conscience. If the minister is serious about his comments from Saturday’s presser, then he should act on the information that is already available.

Read more| Sympathisers, supporters of terrorists live among us: Nisar

On Dec 17, in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack, Islamabad Inspector General Tahir Alam Khan told a press conference that police had information regarding a terrorist presence in the areas of Bhara Kahu and Tarnol and were aware of intelligence regarding certain religious seminaries’ involvement in terrorism.

Also read: Seminaries to help identify ‘black sheep’

At the time, he had said, “Surveillance and vigilance have started, but I cannot divulge more,” he added.

The information he was referring to includes, among other things, a Special Branch report informing authorities that certain religious seminaries in the capital were not only providing support to members of the various Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions in carrying out terrorist attacks in the area, but were also acting as go-betweens, collecting extortion or ransom money from victims and passing them off to militant groups.

Special Branch report names two seminaries that are known to support terrorist activities in twin cities

The report, prepared last year by the Special Branch of Islamabad and Rawalpindi police, also predicted a strong backlash from the TTP if the peace talks between the two sides – that were taking place in at the time – collapsed.

The report stated that TTP operatives were not alone in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks and enjoyed logistical support from certain religious seminaries and mosques.

The report singled out the Jamia Darul Uloom Zakrya Basti Anwarul Madina, in Sarai Kharbooza, Tarnol and the Jamia Khalid Bin Walid in Shamas Colony, Golra. The former is run by Azizur Rehman Hazarvi, while the latter is managed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, one of the founders of the banned Harkatul Mujahideen and chief of its latest incarnation, Ansarul Ummah.

According to the report, the two seminaries are regularly used by TTP operatives as forward operating bases to launch terrorist attacks and carry out other activities in the twin cities. Other seminaries and mosques whose administrators shared their ideology were also helping the two seminaries and TTP members.

Police officials told Dawn on condition of anonymity that seminaries were also assisting TTP in collecting extortion and ransom money by arranging deals between the militants and their victims and ensuring that money is safely delivered to them.

They related the case of Lt-Gen (retired) Dr Mehmoodul Hasan, who was called by a man named Latif in 2013. Latif introduced himself as an aide of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s and demanded Rs50 million. The administrator of the Jamia Khalid Bin Walid then acted as the mediator between the two sides and the victim settled on paying Rs10 million.

The seminary administrator then sent two men from the madressah to collect the money from Lt-Gen Hasan and asked him for his personal vehicle to take the money to their handlers.

Then again, in March 2013, a man named Ashfaq called the Lt-Gen again, this time asking for Rs50 million to be paid to them within 10 days. A week later, another call was made by a man identifying himself as a Taliban emir and asked him to deliver the amount within 72 hours.

“The same channel was used for both extortion negotiations as well as the transactions,” officials told Dawn, adding that they had information that the money remained at the seminaries for some time before it was transported to its recipients, again with the help of seminary staff.

Despite clear intelligence reports and the identification of terrorist supporters, no serious action has been taken against such institutions so far, the officials lamented, adding that their hands were tied as long as they did not get orders to proceed against them from the top.

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