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Bojinka II, Pakistan & Musharraf

By B Raman
August 12, 2006 08:33 IST
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The plot to blow up US-bound airliners is becoming known as 'Bojinka II,' since it is nearly identical in scope and method to Operation Bojinka, which was foiled in 1995 by Filipino authorities.

But Operation Bojinka II, thwarted by the British authorities at the end of an intelligence-led operation which started in December, 2005, differs in some aspects from the original Operation Bojinka of 1995.

Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad had planned Bojinka 1995 as a timer-triggered operation and not as a suicide mission. They had planned to select US-bound flights from South-East and East-Asia with an intermediate halt. The terrorists chosen for the operation were to leave the plane at the intermediate halt after concealing the timed improvised explosive devices inside life-jackets.

Operation Bojinka II was planned as suicide missions to be undertaken by the terrorists on direct flights from airports in the UK to different destinations in the US.

The second difference is that Ramzi and Khalid had planned to have the liquid explosive smuggled into the aircraft in containers used for keeping contact lens cleaning solution. The planners of Operation Bojinka-2006 had planned to have the liquid explosive smuggled into the aircraft by having it concealed at the false bottom of cans used for keeping power drinks.

The idea was that if the airport security asked them to consume some of the power drink before them, they would have had no problem doing so.

Operation Bojinka 1995 involved using a mixed group of Pakistanis and Arabs, with Ramzi and Khalid, both Kuwaiti residents of Pakistani origin, providing the leadership.

Eighteen of the intended suicide volunteers for Operation Bojinka II are reportedly British citizens/residents of Pakistani origin -- the majority of them Punjabis and some Mirpuris from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, whose parents had migrated to the UK when their land was taken over by the Pakistan government for the construction of the Mangla Dam.

All the Pakistani-origin suspects are Sunni Deobandis. There was also one White convert to Islam in the group of plotters -- Umar Islam, 28, (born Brian Young) of High Wycombe.

According to sources in the Pakistani police, some of the 18 persons of Pakistani origin detained by the British police in connection with the investigation had traveled to Pakistan after the earthquake of October 2005, to work as humanitarian volunteers in the relief camps run by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the mother organisation of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and in the Balakote area of the North-West Frontier Province.

These sources say that during their stay in the relief camps, they were taken by the Jundullah, a Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisation which is close to Al Qaeda, to its training camps in the Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan for training. They later returned to the humanitarian relief camps of the Jamaat.

The police sources also say that before returning to the UK, they had visited the jail in Sindh in which Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, is imprisoned, while he awaits the trial on his appeal against the death sentence imposed on him by a lower court.

Jundullah is a new jihadi terrorist organisation, which started operating in the Karachi area three years ago. It was involved in an abortive attempt to kill the corps commander of Karachi in 2004.

Its involvement was also suspected in a suicide car bomb explosion near the US consulate in Karachi on March 2, in which a US diplomat was killed. This explosion took place on the eve of the visit of President George Bush to Pakistan.

Maitur Rehman, a 29-year-old Pakistani from Multan in Punjab, is reported to be the present amir of Jundullah. He had previously served in the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia terrorist organisation, and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami.

Two of the suicide bombers involved in the 7/7 London blasts of last year were also reported to have met Omar Sheikh in jail during their stay in Pakistan. It is important to have Omar Sheikh interrogated outside Pakistan by independent intelligence agencies.

Since the 7/7 London explosions, the British authorities have been keeping a watch on British citizens/residents of Pakistani origin visiting Pakistan in order to check whether they might had any contacts with Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations and Al Qaeda during their stay there.

It would appear that it was during such enquiries in December last year that their suspicion fell on one or more of the persons involved. Subsequent enquiries led to others and to the ultimate discovery of the plot of Operation Bojinka 2006.

Reports in the British and American media indicate that the decision to arrest all the suspects under watch was taken following indications that these suspects were planning to undertake a dry run for the operation by traveling by different flights to the US in order to test the airport security measures before undertaking the operation.

Pakistani and British officials have indicated that tip-offs from Pakistani authorities on the basis of the interrogation of two unidentified persons arrested recently in Karachi and one person arrested in the tribal areas adjoining the Afghan border also played a role in the successful and timely discovery of this plot.

While British officials say that all those involved have been identified and taken into custody, US officials claim that there are still five persons who are at large.

While Pakistani officials have definitely cooperated with the British in the investigation of this plot, the extent and nature of this cooperation is not known.

According to the police sources, Pakistani authorities apprehend that the interrogation of the arrested persons in the UK might bring out that they had links with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and this could create an embarrassment for them.

As a precautionary measure to avoid any allegations from the West of inaction against the Jamaat and the Lashkar, General Pervez Musharraf ordered the police on August 9 to place Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, the amir of the Jamaat, under house arrest for one month. They are hoping that by that time the British investigations would show whether the arrested persons had any link with the Lashkar. If no evidence of such link turns up, he is likely to be released from the house arrest.

The continued involvement of members of the Pakistani Diaspora in the UK in acts of terrorism committed or planned against Western targets poses a dilemma for the British authorities.

While General Musharraf has been providing to the Western countries all the assistance they require after a particular plot has been detected, he has not been acting against the flourishing terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. How to make him act against Al Qaeda and others without endangering his own position in the army, that is the question they keep asking themselves.

They do not realise that the continuing presence of Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory is the only guarantee for him to ensure his continued importance in the eyes of the West. He will continue to follow his present policy of feeding and sustaining the terrorists and sacrificing only those whose terrorist activities are detected by the West.

Unless and until they act against Musharraf, they will have no respite from acts of jihadi terrorism originating or inspired from Pakistani territory.

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B Raman