KARACHI: The mosque linked to New York bomb plot suspect Faisal Shahzad has been recruiting young men for militant training in the past and may still have links to a banned group, security officials and residents said.
The Bat'ha Mosque, in a lower middle-class neighbourhood in the north of Karachi, is often visited by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) leaders, neighbours have said, but it tries to conceal its links to the banned group.
"On the face of it, the mosque has no more links with Jaish, but that's not true," said a resident who was once involved in the management of the mosque.
"They are still close and leaders of the group regularly come here to attend congregations," he said.
JeM was formed in 2000 to liberate what it considers Indian-occupied Kashmir, but has splintered since then.
It is blamed for numerous attacks against civilian and military targets and has also been blamed for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
JeM has links to Afghanistan dating back to the war against the Soviet occupation and still recruits and trains thousands of young men to fight Western forces in the region.
The mosque and adjoining madrasa, is in a busy neighbourhood with several small shops, houses and apartments. It has been the focus of investigators as they seek links between Pakistani militant groups and Shahzad.
Nobody here has ever asked me to go for jihad:
However, it was life as usual in the mosque for hundreds of worshippers at Friday prayers.
There were few signs of unease among worshippers - young and old, some wearing jeans and others with beards and skull-caps, who lined up in the marble-floored, double-storey mosque.
"I am not concerned at all," said 21-year-old university student Tariq Ali as he left the mosque.
"I have been offering my prayers in this mosque for the last few years and will continue to do so. Nobody here has ever asked me to go for jihad," the clean-shaven Ali said.
The president of the mosque management committee, who declined to give his name, denied any links with JeM or that anyone had been detained from the mosque.
The reported detention of JeM activist Mohammad Rehan, said to be a friend of Shahzad, as he left the Bat'ha Mosque after morning prayers on Tuesday has raised speculation Shahzad may be linked to the group.
Officials say they are yet to reach a conclusion.
"We are trying to connect the dots but some links are still missing," said a security official, who asked not to be named.
"We know Rehan is a Jaish worker and that he knew Shahzad, but we are not sure how closely Shahzad was related to the group," he said.
I spent nearly two months there, where I got training to use small weapons:
Officials and neighbours say the mosque used to serve as the provincial headquarters of JeM before the group was banned in 2002. It still recruits young men for jihad, or holy war, the official said, but is more careful now.
"In 2005, I went to a place near Swabi (in the northwest) for training through some people in this mosque," one young man who lived nearby told Reuters.
"I spent nearly two months there, where I got training to use small weapons. We were a group of about 20 people there and we followed a strict routine where we were trained to survive in tough environments as well as given basic religious training," said the man, who would not give his name for security reasons.
"I did not go back after that and am not in touch with these people anymore. But I know some of the other boys did go to Waziristan to take part in jihad last year," he said.