KARACHI: Four members of a banned religious outfit have been picked up in Karachi and are being questioned for possible links to the Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad.
The men are being questioned by a team of the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) Counter Terrorism Wing led by a colonel and another team of US interrogators, officials said. Investigators were led to these men after a scrutiny of Shahzad’s telephone records after his arrival in Pakistan last year. According to sources, the men are active members of the banned Jaish-i-Mohammad and their names are Rehan, Samad, Adnan and Taha. Shahzad is thought to have stayed with Rehan on his visit to Pakistan last year and investigators think the two travelled to Peshawar together.
The four suspects were arrested over the course of two days. It is not clear, however, whether these are their real names or aliases. The four are being kept at a safe house in DHA, said sources. Shahzad’s phone records led investigators to a flat in North Nazimabad, where the resident Khalid told them he had bought the flat from Rehan six years ago. Khalid pointed the investigators to Rehan’s relatives in Kiran Apartments in North Nazimabad. He is the son of one Moinuddin and has four brothers named Azhar, Irfan, Rizwan and Faizan.
Soon after, investigators put a tail on Rehan. He was finally picked up along with his cousin Zeeshan from Aladin Park in Gulshan-i-Iqbal at 11 pm on Tuesday. Police sources say Zeeshan, son of Fareed Ahmed, is an active member of the Jaish-i- Mohammad and collects donations for them. He is believed to be affiliated with Masjid-i-Batha. According to earlier reports, Rehan was picked up after Fajr prayers from Masjid-i-Batha in Buffer Zone.
But the vice principal of the mosque’s madrassah Jamia Alvia Qari Latifullah and its khateeb Maulana Mohammad Ali angrily told The Express Tribune that they would not speak on the record and that no arrests had taken place from their mosque. In a separate interview, however, the mosque’s muezzin Mohammad Naeem said that intelligence agency personnel had visited the mosque and questioned them. The madrassah ‘elders’ were planning to formally discuss these developments.
The link with Masjid-i-Batha is significant as the mosque is known to have been the headquarters of the banned Jaish-i-Mohammad (JM) outfit. Its parent organisation, the Harkatul Mujahideen, was led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil till Maulana Masood Azhar decided to set up the splinter group JM. In 2002, Masjid-i-Batha came into being as JM headquarters. The group is believed to be active in Indian Kashmir and involved in sectarian killings and was banned after 9/1. Azhar was put under house arrest in Bahawalpur and the Jaish is currently led by Maulana Abdul Rauf.
After being proscribed, the group re-emerged as eight smaller groups, two of which are called al Furqan and Jamaat-i-Sunnah. Some investigators think Shahzad may be connected with one of these. Observers say the overall character of JM has changed significantly in the last ten years and it has developed links with the Taliban and al Qaeda networks in Waziristan. There is also said to be an underground network of JM, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sippahe- Sahaba actors involved in sectarian killings and activities targeting Nato.
Meanwhile, on the directives of the home department, the Federal Investigation Agency’s Special Investigation Group (SIG) was dispatched to a house where Faisal Shahzad’s parents are believed to have stayed. The security guard at the Jinnah Cooperative Housing Society residence told the SIG men that Faisal and his parents lived there between 1995 and 1999. Sources say the home department has successfully collected Shahzad’s old travel records.
According to these, Shahzad first acquired a Pakistani passport in 1995 and travelled to Pakistan 17 times between 2003 and 2009. He is said to have used all of Pakistan’s international airports. AGENCIES ADD: Meanwhile, US officials say they have so far been unable to verify Shahzad’s statements that he trained at a Pakistani terror camp and have been unable to link him to any terrorist group. Part of the scepticism regarding the training, investigators say, stems from the fact that the crude, ineffective car bomb Shahzad used did not indicate the kind of explosives expertise usually imparted at training camps.
The investigators made these comments on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to discuss the investigation. The US has also tightened its “no-fly” procedures after the alleged New York car bomber was allowed to board a flight to Dubai despite being redflagged by the authorities. US aviation officials say they had stepped up security requirements for passengers.
Earlier, on Tuesday, the New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that Shahzad was cooperating with investigators and had waived his Miranda rights, which grant him the right to a lawyer and full U.S. constitutional legal rights. If convicted, Shahzad will face a life sentence. WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY REHAN HASHMI AND FAREED FAROOQUI
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