Karachi, Jan. 29 (Reuters): Pakistani police played down suspicions today that al Qaida and Taliban operatives were linked to the recent spate of high-profile terror attacks in Karachi, saying local extremists were to blame.
The teeming port city of 12 million is seen as a key hideout for al Qaida and a base for local Islamic radicals who, while sympathising with the terror network led by Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, do not have proven direct links to it.
“All those attacks were carried out by the local boys,” said Fayyaz Leghari, deputy inspector general of police in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital.
“They are those disillusioned men who thought they were serving Islam by carrying out such activities,” he said in an interview. “They have no regret, no remorse for what they have done.” He was referring to three deadly attacks in Karachi carried out over the last year or so.
US reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped early last year and later murdered while investigating a story on Islamic extremism in Karachi. His dismembered body was found in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the city in May.
A total of 14 people, including 11 French technicians, died in a suicide car bomb attack on May 8 outside one of the city’s smartest hotels and on June 14, 12 Pakistanis were killed in a similar attack on the US consulate building in Karachi.
They were part of a wider wave of violence in Pakistan aimed at Western and Christian targets which killed dozens of people in 2002.
The violence has been blamed on Islamic radicals angered by Pakistan’s decision to side with the US in its self-styled war on terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks on US targets, for which al Qaida is held responsible.
Leghari, who heads a special police branch involved in investigating terror attacks, said police had solved all major attacks carried out after the US crackdown on al Qaida and the fundamentalist Taliban militia in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Many terror suspects had been to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban, he said. On their return, many broke from their main groups and formed tiny splinter cells to carry out attacks, he added.
Hundreds of Pakistanis, including members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, fled to Pakistan when US-led forces hunted down the groups in Afghanistan.
Leghari said the foreign militants used Pakistan as a place to hide or as a transit point to some other destination.
But the locals had apparently started their own private war. According to Leghari, police have arrested over 40 suspects involved in major terror attacks and found that all of them operated on their own initiative and used their own resources.
“It takes only a few hundred rupees to make a fertiliser bomb,” he said.
The militants used second-hand vehicles in the suicide attacks outside the Sheraton Hotel which killed 11 Frenchmen in May and in the June attack on the US consulate.
Police are trying to track down a further 17 suspects in the attacks.
“We have now an edge over them. They are in disarray and are finding it hard to regroup. There have been no major terror attacks during the last several months,” he said.
Pakistani police arrested 21 members of a banned Islamic militant group and recovered weapons and a satellite phone from them in a small town in the North West Frontier Province, a police officer said today.