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Did Al Qaeda kill Pak cleric?

June 08, 2004

On May 30, unidentified terrorists riding a motorbike shot Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, chief of the hardline Deobandi Binori madrassa in Karachi, one of his sons and a nephew as he was returning home, located just across the road from the madrassa.

Nearly 10 days later, the Karachi police and Pakistani intelligence agencies are still groping in the dark in their attempts to identify the killers and establish the motive for the assassination.

As normally happens in Pakistan after each such terrorist strike, there has been speculation in the media and amongst the public. Sections of the local media, including the prestigious Daily Times of Lahore, have projected it as a possible act of retaliation by Shia extremists for the suicide bombing of the Haideri Masjid by Sunni terrorists early last month, in which 18 Shias were killed. The investigation into that incident is reported to have established that the suicide bomber was a police constable, who was a member of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Those who suspect Shia extremists belonging to the Sipah Mohammad to have been responsible for his assassination have projected the suicide bombing in the Ali Raza Imambargah in Karachi within 24 hours of Shamzai's murder as an act of retaliation by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for his murder. Over 20 Shias were killed in this incident.

However, many of Shamzai's colleagues in the Binori madrassa have refrained from blaming Shia extremists for the assassination and condemned attempts to project it as the outcome of the growing Shia-Sunni divide in Pakistan in general and in Karachi in particular.

Beware the Maulana

They blame the US for the assassination and accuse the provincial administration of Sindh, in which the Muttahida Qaumi Movement now plays a predominant role, of acting as the stooge of the US and facilitating his murder by not providing him with effective security despite the fact that he was in receipt of increasing threats to his life since early this year.

Their suspicions are shared by some leaders and many of the cadre of the mainstream Islamic political parties such as Qazi Hussain Ahmed's Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Fazlur Rahman's Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam, a splinter group of the JUI led by Maulana Samiul Haq etc which constitute the six-party religious coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.

In fact, in their First Information Report lodged with the local police after the assassination, office-bearers of the madrassa wanted to name Ishratul Ibad, the MQM governor of Sindh, as their principal suspect, but were persuaded by other religious leaders not to do so without evidence lest their action further spoil the atmosphere in Karachi and lead to acts of violence against the Mohajirs (migrants from India), whose interests the MQM represents.

Pakistan's military dictator General Pervez Musharraf is a Mohajir and has been under attack by religious extremist elements since October 2002, for having rehabilitated the MQM and inducted its nominees into positions of power in
Karachi in return for its support for the government nominated by him in Islamabad and for his continuing as army chief in spite of his having crossed the age of superannuation. These elements accuse Musharraf and the MQM of acting in tandem in promoting US interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mufti Shamzai's real age is not known. Some say he was 52, but others say he was actually 70. In Pakistan's religious hierarchy, he occupied the second position after Mufti Rafiuddin Usmani, who is the chief Mufti of Pakistan. He was better known than Usmani in Pakistan and the Islamic world and had a much larger following in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

The Binori madrassa came to prominence in 1979 when the late Zia-ul Haq nominated its then chief and founder Maulana Yusuf Binori as chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology. After the Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan towards the end of 1979, Shamzai in association with other mullahs of Pakistan issued a fatwa calling for a jihad against the Soviet Union.  

Mufti Shamzai was then the blue-eyed mullah of not only Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence but also of the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Saudi intelligence and played an active role in the recruitment of Muslims from Pakistan and other Islamic countries and training them with the help of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment for waging a jihad against Soviet troops.

He became close to Zia, General Pervez Musharraf, General Mohammad Aziz, presently chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee, General Muzaffar Usmani (retired), former corps commander, Karachi, and vice-chief of the army staff, and three former jihadi chiefs of the ISI, namely, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, Lieutenant General Javed Nasir and Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed.

During his career, he issued nearly 2,000 fatwas. In the 1970s and 1980s, his fatwas were mainly directed against the USSR, India and Israel. After Osama bin Laden formed his International Islamic Front in February 1998, his fatwas became increasingly directed against the US. After the US-led coalition started its so-called war against terrorism in Afghanistan in October 2001, he issued a fatwa calling upon the Muslims of the world to join the jihad against the US.

Shamzai was the mentor and godfather of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its militant wing the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. He was designated patron-in-chief of the Jaish and was a member of the shura of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Maulana Fazlur Rahman's Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam.

Jaish-e-Mohammad adopts new name

Shamzai, who strongly backed Musharraf's seizure of power in October 1999, became increasingly critical of him after the general decided to cooperate with the US in its operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He and his followers helped the leaders of the Taliban, including Mullah Omar, to escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan and take sanctuary there. 

It was reported in 2002 that during the US operations against Al Qaeda in Tora Bora, Shamzai's followers evacuated bin Laden, who had sustained a sharpnel injury, to the Binori complex in Karachi where he was treated till August 2002, by serving and retired medical doctors of the Pakistan army. He later left the madrassa.

Post-9/11, Shamzai promoted the formation of a clandestine organisation called Brigade 313 (the number of warriors in the battle of Badr at the time of the Holy Prophet) to wage jihad against Western nationals and interests and Christians in Pakistani territory. It consisted of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Jaish, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami  and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. 

All the members of this brigade are also members of the International Islamic Front. At his instance, members of this brigade infiltrated into Iraq to join the jihad against the US troops there.

Shamzai was the principal exponent of international Islamism which holds, firstly, that the loyalty of a Muslim is first to his religion and then only to the country of which he is resident or a citizen; secondly, that Muslims do not recognise national frontiers and hence have the right and the obligation to wage jihad anywhere to protect their religion; and, thirdly, that the Muslims have the right and the religious obligation to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction to protect their religion, if necessary. 

These ideas strongly influenced bin Laden. Since the beginning of this year, there have been reports of differences in Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front over targeting the Saudi ruling family and its administration by certain sections of these outfits. Shamzai, who had close contacts with the Saudi ruling family and religious clerics and received large funds from them, was reportedly increasingly critical of the Al Qaeda leadership for allegedly weakening the jihad against the US and Israel by targeting the Saudi authorities and thereby losing their support for international jihad. Al Qaeda elements were accusing him of letting himself be bought by the Saudi authorities and supporting the pro-US apostate regimes of the Islamic world.

Did these differences have anything to do with his assassination? If so, did Al Qaeda or the International Islamic Front have any role in his assassination? These questions remain without definitive answers for the moment.

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