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Al Qaeda Fighting Lashkar-e-Islam's Dominance in Kyber Agency!

Interesting Article: "Blast at banned outfit’s centre kills three in Khyber Agency" by DAWN / Peshawar published Friday, July 27th, 2012

An interesting article mentioned that a blast at a centre of the banned outfit, Lashkar-i-Islam, late on Thursday killed at least three and injured four in Khyber Agency. According to official sources, the blast took place in Tehsil Bara of the troubled Khyber Agency alongside the Afghanistan border. Banned organizations often attack each other in the area rife with religious militancy. However, no such group has yet accepted the responsibility of the attack. Would you like to know more?

There seems to be a turf war happening in the restive tribal areas of Pakistan. So much so that Al-Qaeda has stepped in to assist one of the sides.

At least three people were killed and four injured in the bomb blast that took place in Akka Khel (Aqakhail) area of Bara in Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan. The bomb was fixed near a mosque and was triggered by a remote-controlled device when people were coming out after offering prayers. Akka Khel is a restive area where rivals Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Islam and other militant groups have been fighting against each other to gain control of the region, a key route for NATO supplies to Afghanistan. In the blast, two commanders of Lashkar-e-Islam identified as Sher Ali and Mashar Khan were killed.

Reports have surfaced that there is a large rivalry between Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansarul Islam as well. In July, The head of Kamarkhel tribal lashkar was killed and his associate sustained injuries in a remote-controlled explosion in Takhtaki area of Tirah valley in Khyber Agency. The sources said that Rasheed Khan, a tribal elder and head of Kamarkhel lashkar in Takhtaki area, was on his way to the mosque along with one of his friends, Adam Khan for offering fajr prayer when the explosion occurred. Rasheed Khan died on the spot and his companion sustained injuries in the blast, the sources added.

Geographically located in the centre of militancy-hit Tirah valley, Kamarkhel Afridi tribe in Takhtaki area had been neutral in the rivalry between the militant groups Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansarul Islam and had formed the tribal lashkar (army) to defend their area against any aggression by these groups, the local sources said. The sources said after taking over the Kukikhel area in Tirah valley, the militants belonging to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) warned the elders of Takhtaki to surrender to them or face the consequences. The elders defied the order and vowed to protect their area against the militants.

The Mangal Bagh-led militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam has been systematically trying to gain the upper hand among the militant groups. In June, they claimed responsibility for killing anti-militant lashkar leader Fahim ur Rehman, saying it soon would release video of the slaying. Lashkar-e-Islam spokesman Abu Rashid Lashkari, even called reporters to reject the rival militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s claim of responsibility for Fahim’s death.

They are also consolidating their power by killing moderate tribal leaders, in an attempt to quash any anti-militant thought. In the latter part of June, Pakistani militants gunned down the leader of anti-Taliban militia in the north-western city of Peshawar, after repeated attempts on his life. He had developed a reputation as a fearless Dirty Harry-style Taliban hunter since giving up his profitable property business to found a 1500-strong "lashkar", or private army, in 2009. Saifullah Mahsud, director the Fata Research Centre, an independent thinktank which studies Pakistan's tribal areas, said Fahimuddin was known as the most popular and most effective of the anti-Taliban militias. His lashkar was one of dozens of pro-government tribal militias operating throughout Pakistan's north-west frontier areas, part of an attempt to mobilize communities against local Taliban commanders. Soon after setting up the lashkar, Fahimuddin's house was attacked by 50 militants, some of whom used burqas to avoid security checks before opening fire. Fahimuddin himself used to describe Mangal Bagh, the head of Lashkar-e-Islam, as his nemesis. The militant group enforces prayers five times a day and punishes people accused of prostitution, gambling and other vices – including growing moustaches.

Peshawar's location at the mouth of the Khyber Pass puts it on the frontline of the war against al-Qaeda, which has produced a deadly wave of attacks across Pakistan. In the last five years, Islamist bombers have killed more than 5000 people.

Lashkar-e-Islam understands that dominance equals funding, and they have an avid fund raiser through Al-Qaeda. The area Lashkar-e-Islam controls has received a great deal of attention by Al-Qaeda. The TTP has priorities in the Tirah Valley, which is strategically located on the confluence of Khyber, Orakzai, and Kurram Tribal Agencies, and connects northern and southern FATA. Control of the valley would provide the TTP with a regular land route to ferry logistics and human resources throughout the length and breadth of FATA and shift its bases to new areas in FATA where the Pakistani and US governments have yet to establish effective human, signals and technical intelligence networks for supporting the US drone campaign. The TTP is still vying for control of the Tirah Valley with the two militant groups mentioned above, (Lashkar-e-Islam, led by Manghal Bagh Afridi, and Ansarul Islam), although the TTP now controls most of Khyber Agency itself. Al-Qaeda put it's support behind TTP, so much so that Al Qaeda recently moved key leadership figures into the area to further assist TTP in dominating Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansarul Islam.

Farman Ali Shinwari, a native of Pakistan's Khyber Agency, has been named al-Qaeda's new leader in that country to replace Badr Mansour. Al-Qaeda's Dawa [Propagation] and Media Department, which is led by Ustad Ahmad Farooq and disseminates speeches on Taliban and al-Qaeda websites, including As-Sahab, announced Shinwari's promotion on April 30.

According to the statement, Shinwari was approved as leader in Pakistan after consultations by al-Qaeda's "top leadership" and ratification by its commanders in Pakistan. The decision to promote Shinwari is consistent with al-Qaeda's preference for putting men affiliated with Kashmiri militant groups into leadership positions. Such leaders include Ilyas Kashmiri, former al-Qaeda external operations commander and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami founder, and Shinwari's predecessor Badr Mansour.

The immediate effect of Shinwari's promotion is that he will oversee the intensification of attacks by al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply lines passing through Khyber Agency into Afghanistan from Pakistan. The medium-term effect is that he can take advantage of his family connections to Kashmir- and Central Asia-focused militant groups in North Waziristan to support al-Qaeda and the TTP as they renew their operations in those regions. In the long term, Shinwari's youth makes him an ideal candidate to be one of the faces of al-Qaeda leadership in the next generation - if he can avoid the drones that will be honing on him, as they did his predecessor Mansour.

Farman Ali Shinwari belongs to the Khugakel clan of the Shinwari tribe based in the Landikotal subdistrict of Khyber Agency. His tribe, the Pakistani Shinwaris, is different from the 400,000-member Afghan Shinwari tribe living in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, which in 2010 agreed to support US troops to fight the Taliban in exchange for US$1 million in development aid. The Pakistani Shinwaris are not the largest tribe in Khyber Agency - others such as the Afridi tribe are larger - but Farman Ali Shinwari's power base does not stem from his tribal affiliations; rather, it stems from his militant affiliations and his family's commitment to the TTP, al-Qaeda, and Kashmiri militant groups.

The Shinwaris are among the most important militant families in Khyber Agency. One of his brothers, Hazrat Nabi (aka Tamanchay Wala), taught theology at a government-run school in Landikotal before becoming one of the TTP's leading commanders in 2005. Hazrat Nabi has sent many fighters to Kashmir and Afghanistan and is reportedly now leading both a TTP faction in North Waziristan and the Kashmir-focused militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

Shinwari is 30 years old, married since 2008 with two children, fluent in English, and a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from Landikotal College in Khyber Agency and a first-division master's degree in international relations from the University of Peshawar. He has worked in several private schools in Landikotal teaching chemistry and biology and has a reputation for being an eloquent speaker on issues of jihad.

In 2008, when Pakistani security forces initiated a campaign to root out militants in Shinwari's home town of Landikotal, his family members escaped to Waziristan. The security forces later demolished the Shinwari family house in Khugakhel village in Landikotal and arrested several members of his extended family who did not escape. Thus Farman Ali Shinwari is surely to have revenge on his mind, another asset that will motivate him as al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan.

Security analysts from India worry that al-Qaeda under Shinwari will set its sights on Kashmir, since it has been a main target of Pakistani-based militant groups and the Shinwari family for decades. While Kashmir is still a key battleground for al-Qaeda and the TTP, however, the first priority for Shinwari is to expedite the US withdrawal from Afghanistan by intensifying attacks on NATO's supply lines in Khyber Agency.

This will open up opportunities for al-Qaeda foot soldiers and the TTP to shift their operations to Kashmir and other fronts, such as the secular Central Asian countries and the West, while also working to secure safe havens in Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan as al-Qaeda had in the era preceding September 11, 2001.

The story of Islamists will not end soon, it is the job of Pakistan to monitor these radicals and root them out, or they will continue to grow, each group more violent than the last.



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