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Nurseries of terror surge in Pakistan: Report

March 30, 2003 13:39 IST

Recruitment to terrorist training camps in Muridke in Pakistan has apparently risen to record levels in recent days, a media report said.

The training camps are located in a 190-acre estate in Muridke, surrounded by barbed wire and protected from view by tall trees. The sign at the entrance says 'Lashkar-e-Tayiba', an organisation banned in Pakistan last year after the US labelled it a terrorist group and accused it of helping to smuggle Al Qaeda members out of Afghanistan.

Inside the camp, teenage boys listen to lectures glorifying  jihad and write their death wish before heading off to fight, The Sunday Times reported.

 The report 'Nurseries of terror surge in Pakistan',  from Muridke, near Lahore said: "Although the fight to seize control of Jammu and Kashmir is the main objective of all these terrorists camps, Western diplomats say they have links to Al Qaeda.

"Recruitment has apparently risen to record levels. It is common to see poor families distributing sweets to celebrate their sons' selection for camps such as Muridke and to fight in jihad," the report said.

According to the report, defence specialists put the number of jihadis at more than 200,000, their ranks bolstered by the war in Iraq.
"Our educational institutes have become nurseries for all these militants," said Anwar Ahmad Zia, assistant secretary for education for Sind province. "If we really want to eradicate them, that's where we must start."

A third of all children in Pakistan attend madrasas, which provide free boarding and lodging and are regarded by Western intelligence as a breeding ground for terrorists, the report pointed out.

Promises by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf  to regulate madrasas have been all but abandoned since religious parties won 20 per cent of the seats in elections last October.

"Work is not stopped by banning organisations," said Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for LeT. "When our leader calls, hundreds of thousands of people gather. We are not a terrorist organisation but like any other party. We have no fighting wing, only political ambitions, and support for the Kashmir cause."

More than 40 jihadi publications have sprung up in the past year, including a magazine called Allah's Army and a
daily newspaper called Islam, now the second biggest selling paper in Pakistan.
Although collecting money for jihad is officially banned, collection boxes have reappeared in shops and tea-houses.
In the past, collections were for jihad in places such as Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya. This year many were calling it darul harab, or war at home, the report said.

American and British officials are so concerned that the subject is "actively raised at every opportunity." Nancy Powell, the US ambassador, recently described the country as "a platform for terrorists," the report said.

Officials in Afghanistan claim that Pakistan is sponsoring the Taliban and Al Qaeda movements to try to destabilise the western-backed government.

"Pakistan is the key to solving the war on terrorism," said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. "We know Taliban (members) are gathering openly [in Pakistan]."

The report said since capturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's operations chief, on March 1, the Pakistani
government has been boasting about its successes in the war on terrorism. Its shadowy intelligence agency, ISI, even held its first press conference.

However, Western intelligence agents in Pakistan say that rather than congratulating Islamabad, the world should be asking what exactly is going on there.

They point out that five leading Al Qaeda operatives have been arrested in different Pakistani cities over the past year, all sheltered by local families.
Most of all, they complain that it is business as usual for the country's home-grown terrorists. In January last year, after pressure from America to stamp out Islamic extremism, Musharraf banned jihadi groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Sipah-e-Sahaba, arrested hundreds of their members and ordered an end to infiltration into Kashmir, their main cause.

After lying low for a while, the organisations changed their names, opened new Web sites and shed the ostentatious black balaclavas and heavier weapons of their bodyguards. Their leaders and activists have been since freed and are making inflammatory speeches, recruiting and raising funds, the report said.

"Musharraf is playing a double game," complained a Western diplomat in Islamabad. "He tricked the West, saying, Pakistan is plagued by all these mullahs and jihadis and I'm the only secular leader who can save you. But in fact he's thriving on these groups. If they weren't operating, why should anyone need him to stay on?"

The report said Hafiz Saeed, a retired engineering professor, is touring the country raising support for Jamaat-ul-Dawa, the new name for Lashkar-e-Tayiba. In a speech last month in Rawalpindi, he said: "Allah has told us to make atom bombs. America is telling us not to. Who should we listen to. Allah or America?"

There has been speculation that Pakistan arrested Khalid to deflect American pressure. "Nobody can criticise Pakistan's commitment to the war on terror," said Faisal Saleh Hayat, the interior minister. "We have arrested more than 440 Al Qaeda suspects."

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