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ISIS is the latest and deadliest entrance in Pakistan’s decades-old warfare on terror

DHABEJI, Pakistan — Hafeez Nawaz was 20 years outdated when he left his spiritual faculty in Karachi to hitch the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Afghanistan. Three years later, he was again in Pakistan to hold out a lethal mission: With explosives strapped to his physique, he blew himself up in the midst of an election rally final month, killing 149 individuals and wounding 300 others.

The assault in southwestern Baluchistan province close to the Afghan border simply days earlier than Pakistan’s July 25 parliamentary elections has forged an unwelcome highlight on Nawaz’s tiny village of Dhabeji, the place the presence of an ISIS cell has introduced the total weight of Pakistan’s safety equipment down on its residents.

“Now we’re all below suspicion,” stated Nawaz’s neighbor, who gave solely his first title, Nadeem, for concern of the native police. “The safety businesses now contemplate Dhabeji a safety menace space.”

Nawaz’s trajectory from religiously religious scholar to jihadi and suicide bomber is an all too acquainted one in Pakistan.

Since battlefield successes routed ISIS from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, a whole bunch of Pakistanis who traveled to hitch the extremists’ so-called “caliphate” are unaccounted for and Pakistan’s safety personnel fear that they, like Nawaz, have gone underground ready to strike. 

Sitting in his workplace in a compound surrounded by excessive partitions and closely armed guards, Karachi’s counterterrorism division chief, Pervez Ahmed Chandio, stated ISIS is the latest — and deadliest — entrance in Pakistan’s decades-old warfare on terror.

“It is among the most harmful threats dealing with Pakistan and we’re able to combat this warfare,” he stated.

It is the amorphous nature of ISIS that has counterterrorism officers like Chandio most anxious. When one cell is disrupted one other emerges, typically inside weeks and sometimes in an unrelated a part of the nation.

“It is what they do not know that’s the most worrying for counterterrorism departments across the nation,” stated Mohammad Amir Rana, govt director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Research, which tracks militant actions within the area. “Its hideouts, its construction, its technique are all unknown. They’re an invisible enemy who’s defeated in a single space, solely to resurface in one other.”

A U.N. Safety Council report earlier this yr warned of the altering face of ISIS, saying the extremist group was “coming into a brand new part, with extra concentrate on much less seen networks of people and cells appearing with a level of autonomy.”

Hafeez Nawaz was such a case. Three years in the past, he joined his older brother, Aziz, to check at Siddiquia Madrassa in Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony neighborhood, an space the place the extent of sectarian violence on the time was so brutal that even police couldn’t enter. A crackdown by paramilitary Rangers has since led to the arrest and killing of a whole bunch of militants and criminals.

At the moment, the spiritual faculty is amongst 94 madrassas below surveillance in Karachi and elsewhere in southern Sindh province, Chandio stated. They’ve been recognized as breeding grounds for radicalism, faculties the place jihadis have emerged and that perpetrators of assaults attended. Many are financed by oil-rich Saudi Arabia to advertise the inflexible Wahabi sect of Islam practiced within the kingdom, Chandio stated. The origin of the cash, whether or not from the Saudi authorities or Saudi philanthropists, shouldn’t be clear however the teachings at these faculties espouse a inflexible interpretation of Islam and the prevalence of Sunni Islam.

It was at Siddiquia Mosque that Nawaz’s brother, Aziz, fell in with a crowd of would-be jihadis and was persuaded to journey to Afghanistan’s Spinboldak area on the border with Pakistan in 2014 to hitch the Taliban. However his allegiance was short-lived as commanders squabbled and Aziz returned to Pakistan. As soon as again house, he inducted his youthful brother, Hafeez, into the jihadi circle however this time, it was ISIS that held sway, stated Chandio, who was a part of the counterterrorism squad that, utilizing little greater than physique elements and grainy cellular phone footage, recognized Hafeez Nawaz because the suicide bomber behind the July 13 election rally assault.

Chandio realized from the brothers’ father that Nawaz and Aziz packed up their three sisters and their mom and moved them to Afghanistan in 2016 to stay amongst an ISIS affiliate there. Two of the sisters have since married ISIS operatives. Their youngest brother, Shakoor, who was despatched by their father a yr later to plead with them to return, stays in Afghanistan, as does Aziz.

Chandio suspects 19-year-old Shakoor is now an ISIS operative and could possibly be the subsequent suicide bomber. He stated Shakoor matches the factors: a younger man in his late teenagers or early 20s, religiously religious and inclined to radicalization. 

Hafeez Nawaz was simply 23 when he walked into the center of the election rally in Baluchistan’s Mustang space and detonated the suicide vest that sprayed shrapnel all through the tent full of native tribesmen.

Nawaz’s father and his oldest brother, Haq Nawaz, at the moment are in custody, caught attempting to flee to Afghanistan, Chandio stated.

Some analysts say the menace posed by ISIS in Pakistan is, at the least partly, the results of the nation’s bewildering perspective towards the poisonous mixture of militant teams that function within the nation.

Since 2004, the Pakistani army has killed or pushed out 1000’s of militants from their mountain redoubts within the tribal areas that border Afghanistan, struggling 1000’s of casualties in these battles. But Pakistan permits banned teams, some with an extended historical past of sectarian violence, to re-emerge and function below new names, and identified militants to maneuver about freely.

“It is a unhappy actuality of Pakistan: If militant leaders are helpful to the state’s pursuits, then they’re free to do as they need,” stated Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program on the Washington-based Wilson Heart. “As long as terrorist leaders roam free, there’s nonetheless a really huge terrorism drawback.”

A living proof is the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a world terrorist group that has been resurrected as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a gaggle identified to have despatched scores of fighters to Syria and Iraq to bolster ISIS, based on Pakistani intelligence officers, who spoke on situation of anonymity to debate the delicate difficulty.

Hafiz Saeed, the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, who has a $10 million U.S.-imposed bounty on his head, lives unrestricted in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, the place 60 per cent of the nation’s 200 million individuals stay.

Simply final month, the U.S. State Division declared one other of the group’s senior commanders, Abdul Rehman al-Dakhil, a world terrorist, who poses “a major danger of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the safety of U.S. nationals or the nationwide safety, international coverage, or financial system of the USA.”

Dakhil, who additionally now lives freely in Lahore, was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and held in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan till 2014, when he was returned to Pakistan, the place he spent a short stint in jail earlier than being launched.

“ISIS is minimize from the identical fundamental ideological fabric as the opposite Islamist terror teams in Pakistan,” stated Kugelman. “Marriages of comfort can by no means be dominated out, whether or not by way of operational partnerships or cost-sharing. … We have seen a mannequin of Afghanistan-focused ISIS members linking up with native facilitators in Pakistan to stage assaults.”

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