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Lashkar is major threat to US, says think-tank

July 09, 2010 14:28 IST

Raised by Pakistan's Inter-Services-Intelligence for its proxy operations against India, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba has now become the largest terror group operating in the sub-continent and it also poses a potent threat to the United States, an American think-tank has said. "Its threat stems from the large and diverse pool of recruits willing and able to engage in acts of terrorism, its increasing cooperation with other global terrorist groups, and its ability to operate virtually unfettered by Pakistani authorities," said Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) in its latest report on LeT.

It said while Americans may be shocked to see a naturalised citizen so deeply involved in wanton bloodletting, but the prosecution of David Headley is merely the latest in a string of cases tied to LeT since 2001. "While all the cases vary in terms of targets and means, they are bound by Lashkar's willingness to train Westerners in violent jihad. And the threat is only exacerbated by the fact that Westerners are increasingly interested in joining ranks with Islamist militants," IPT said in its 51-page investigative report. Demonstrative of the growing reach of Lashkar is a series of criminal prosecutions of Americans for their involvement with the terrorist group, it said.

The LeT was designed to provide Pakistan's military with a proxy force of militant recruits to augment the Islamic insurgency in Kashmir. Even today, the primary focus of the organisation remains the "liberation" of Kashmir, it said. Ever since its creation, Lashkar has relied on an extensive network of private and public backers for financial support and political cover. In the late 1980s, Lashkar received financial support from charitable donations collected from Pakistan, Kashmir, the United Kingdom, and Persian Gulf states. With this influx of funding and the additional assistance of Pakistani intelligence, the group was able to establish a substantial infrastructure. That support structure, consisting of media outlets, charitable fronts, madrassas, and training facilities, has enabled LeT to enlist and indoctrinate a steady flow of new recruits, the report said. According to IPT, despite the fact that LeT has been recognised by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations as a terrorist organisation, Pakistan has been slow to act against the group and its various fronts-in some cases with the blessing of Pakistani government officials.

In response to the Mumbai terror attacks and Jamaat-Ud-Dawah's links to LeT, the Pakistani government moved to ban JuD in December 2008. "Despite the ban, JuD continues to operate virtually unfettered in Pakistan, both in the open and under the guise of a new charitable front called Falah-e-Insaniat (FeI). JuD's signature black-and-white flag bearing a scimitar was recently seen flying at a relief effort set up by the newly established FeI for refugees fleeing violence in Pakistan's SWAT valley," it said. Even the new group's own members recognize the inseparable nature between JuD and FeI, it added. "It is a measure of the impunity with which LeT is allowed to operate in Pakistan that the authorities have been unwilling to contain LeT chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who attracts thousands across the country with his fiery sermons. Although he has been periodically arrested, his house detentions have been cosmetic at best," the report said. Now, it said, the threat posed by Lashkar extends beyond the borders of India and Pakistan. "Westerners who have passed through LeT's training camps include an Australian-born al-Qaeda operative named David Hicks, convicted 'shoe bomber' Richard Reid, and Dhiren Barot, the mastermind of a failed gas-cylinder bombing in London," it said.

The attraction of LeT to Westerners may be traced to a number of factors. Although the group has shown willingness since the 1990s to train foreigners as a means of establishing networks in the West, this activity surged after September 11 because LeT did not experience the same crackdown that its al-Qaeda brethren did. As a result, the camps became an especially appealing destination for many would-be jihadists. "The group makes its training camps accessible to English speakers, providing crucial skills to an increasingly young and Western-born generation of extremists," the report said. "Demonstrative of the growing threat posed by Lashkar is the terror group's connections to a number of recent plots involving American citizens. The most notable were Americans who had assisted in the Mumbai attacks and an extensive sleeper cell of Americans in Northern Virginia. In addition to these high-profile cases, there have been a number of smaller criminal prosecutions of Americans associated with Lashkar," it said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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