By: Dr. Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari
Dated: January 29, 2014
Sheikh Ataur Rehman, the jailed Emir of Jundallah (the Army of Allah), who claimed the deadly Shikarpur Imambargah bombing which killed around 60 people, keeps dodging death for a decade despite being sentenced to death for the June 10, 2004 bomb attack on the cavalcade of the then Corps Commander Karachi, Lt Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat.
The January 30, 2015 bombing took place at the Markazi Jamia Masjid Syedu Shuhada, located in Lakhi Dar area of Shikarpur, as the worshippers stood up for Friday prayers. Jundallah, which used to be an affiliate of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) before pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daish recently, claimed responsibility for the attack. “Our target was the Shia community mosque. They are our enemies,” said Fahad Marwat, the central Jundallah spokesperson in a statement released from an undisclosed location. The Jundallah spokesman had earlier announced allegiance of his group to the ISIS on November 17, 2014, after holding a meeting with a three-member Daish delegation which had travelled to Pakistan from Syria under the leadership of Abu Zubair Al Kuwaiti. “They (ISIS) are our brothers, whatever plan they have we will support them,” said Fahad Marwat after the meeting. The Balochistan meeting between Jundallah and Daish leaders had created ripples in the Pakistani establishment.
Like predominantly anti-Shia Jundallah, the ISIS too has demonstrated its barbarity and sectarian hatred in Iraq and Syria. Before carrying out the Shikrapur bombing, Jundallah had claimed responsibility for the November 26, 2014 killing of four polio workers in Karachi, including three women. Jundallah had also claimed credit for the October 23, 2014, suicide attack on JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman in Quetta, Balochistan. Maulana narrowly escaped death due to the bullet-proof vehicle he was travelling in. But three JUI-F workers lost their lives in the bombing. Jundallah, which had emerged in 2003 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, used to be one of the anti-Shia franchises of the TTP, which operates under different names in different parts of Pakistan. Mainly based in the port city of Karachi, the group has reorganised itself four times since its inception in 2003, following the deaths and arrests of its leaders and members by the law enforcement agencies.
The founding Emir of Jundallah, Sheikh Ataur Rehman, used to be a student leader of the Karachi University, belonging to the Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT). He was handed down death sentence by an Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) of Karachi for the June 2004 bombing on the convoy of the then Karachi Corps Commander Karachi Lt Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat. While the corps commander had a narrow escape in the bombing, 12 people, including eight army personnel, were killed on the spot. Investigations into the Clifton bridge attack revealed the involvement of Jundallah, which at that time was led by Ataur Rehman and patronised by the South Waziristan-based Taliban commander, Nek Mohammad. Barely six days after the botched attack Nek Mohammad was killed in the first-ever US drone strike on the Pakistani soil, on June 17, 2004. However, Sheikh Ataur Rehman, who is currently imprisoned at the Karachi Central Jail, is lucky enough to have dodged the gallows even after a lapse of ten years, as the Sindh High Court has yet to decide his appeal against the death sentence handed down by the Karachi ATC.
According to the information gathered by the security agencies, an intriguing common aspect in the profiles of most of the Jundallah members is their past association with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the IJT. Jundallah, which was established by Ataur Rehman, was originally a small cell of 20 militants, most of them in their twenties and thirties; educated from professional working classes and mostly belonging to IJT. Ataur Rehman was assisted in recruiting youngsters to wage ‘jehad’ by Karachi’s Dr Arshad Waheed, an orthopaedic surgeon, his brother Dr Akmal Waheed, also a neurosurgeon and Engineer Ahsan Aziz. They were not only active members of the JI’s Medical Wing, Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, but also had close links with Syed Salahuddin-led Hizbul Mujahideen.
The creation of Jundallah was a prime example of al-Qaeda’s changing face in Pakistan. Being the eldest son of a businessman, Sheikh Ataur Rehman grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood in Karachi and worked actively first for the IJT and then for JI. His journey to terrorism began after he went to Afghanistan to receive military training there in 1991. Ata revealed during questioning after his arrest in the corps commander attack case that his brigade mostly targeted Shias, westerners, foreign missions and security forces. He had formed Jundallah in 2003 after the March 1, 2003 arrest of top al-Qaeda leader and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, from the Rawalpindi residence of a JI leader, Ahmed Abdul Qudoos, whose wife, Farzana Qudoos, was also an office-bearer of the Rawalpindi chapter of the JI.
The Karachi police had arrested Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed after their cell phone numbers were found in Ataur Rehman’s mobile phone memory and he too confirmed that they were a part of the Jundallah network. The doctor brothers were sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment on March 14, 2005, only to be acquitted three months later for lack of evidence – on July 11, 2006 – after they challenged the verdict. But the doctor brothers’ Jundallah and al-Qaeda connections were firmly established when Dr Arshad Waheed was killed in a US drone attack in South Waziristan in March 2008. Al-Qaeda’s then chief operational commander, Mustafa Abu Yazid, who had earlier claimed responsibility for the December 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, gave a eulogy for Dr Arshad Waheed in a 40-minute video message.
The Jamaat-e-Islami had already denied any link with those who are involved in terrorism. It said that past association of someone with it cannot be proof of its link with someone’s present activities.