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Istanbul bombers mention Kashmir

By Shyam Bhatia in London
November 24, 2003 10:03 IST
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The reference to Kashmir by Brigades of Abu Hafz al-Masri -- an Al Qaeda offshoot that claimed responsibility for the Istanbul bombings -- has made diplomats and international terrorism experts sit up.

They said the reference shows the widening agenda of Osama bin Laden and his supporters.

Bin Laden had mentioned Kashmir in one of his earlier interviews with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, but it was never considered to be high priority. But al-Masri's reference is seen as an indication of Kashmir moving up the ladder of importance for Al Qaeda.

A statement of the outfit published on an Islamist website, al-Mujahidoun, says Britain's late consul general in Istanbul, Roger Short, was targeted 'because of his extensive experience in combatting Islam'.

"Our cars of death struck the consulate building ... and by the grace of God, he was killed," the statement said.

Addressing United States President George Bush the statement warned that the 'cars of death' will not stop until four demands are met, including freeing of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, stopping the global war against Islam and Muslims, ending US support for the 'tyrannical governments' which rule Muslims.

A fourth demand, which has never before been listed so specifically, calls for the purifying of 'all Islamic land from the filth of the Jews and Americans, including Jerusalem and Kashmir'.

"It used to be Palestine and Chechnya that used to be mentioned all the time," said a London-based Western diplomat. Now the agenda is getting wider and wider and the significance of listing Kashmir is that the global jihad movement is multi purpose and multi dimensional.

"No regional conflict or dispute should be seen in isolation to the broader picture. All things are inter-linked. What's happening in Southeast Asia is linked to the atrocities in Kashmir, Istanbul and elsewhere," he said.

M J Gohel, a terrorism expert with the independent London-based security think tank Asia-Pacific Foundation, said it is significant that one of the suicide bombers identified by the Turkish authorities, Feridu Ugurlu, appears to have visited Pakistan.

Gohel told "A Pakistani passport has been found in the possessions of one of the suicide bombers and additionally it is believed that the suicide bombers were indoctrinated and trained in explosives in Pakistan between 1997 and 1999, and then given field experience in Chechnya."

"This is not entirely surprising because the cancer of terrorism had planted deep roots in Pakistan in the 1980s, the malignancy then spread to Afghanistan through the Pakistan sponsored and Saudi Arabian-UAE financed Taliban Militia in Afghanistan.

"Though Kashmir became the first casualty of the global jihadis the international community remained in a state of slumber, the complacency possibly induced by the fact that the sponsors of extremism were technically designated as being staunch western allies. The price of that misguided belief resulted in not only Kashmir becoming a killing field but encouraged the onslaught on US interests, culminating in the September 11 atrocities," he said.

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Shyam Bhatia in London