Even as al Qaeda leaders confirmed the target killing of their leader Osama Bin Laden, sermons in several mosques across Pakistan praised the international terrorist mastermind and railed against the United States for having conducted a raid on Pakistani soil.
The sermons were followed in many cities by small rallies organised by the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). The JI held rallies in Abbottabad, Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
The Quetta and Karachi rallies were organised by the JUI. Minor demonstrations were also reported to have been held across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Several militant leaders gave pro-al-Qaeda sermons on Friday afternoon, including the former head of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who railed against the US attack and said: “‘Tum jitnay Osama maro gay, har ghar say Osama niklay ga” [no matter how many Osamas you kill, every household will produce another Osama].
Leaders of the banned Jamaatud Dawa – a group affiliated with the militant Laskhar-e-Tayyiba – during their Friday sermons claimed that the attack on Bin Laden in Abbottabad was a “drama staged by the United States”. Yet, even as they cast doubt over whether or not he was actually killed, JuD leaders kept referring to Bin Laden as a “martyr”.
JI Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief Senator Ibrahim Khan, while leading an anti-US rally in Abbottabad called Bin Laden a “warrior of Islam” and a martyr, even as he kept casting doubts on whether or not the al Qaeda leader was dead.
JI leaders were also highly critical of the government, including the president, the prime minister and the military leadership for having failed to prevent what they referred to as a “violation of the country’s sovereignty”.
Many people attending Friday prayers were also sceptical that Osama Bin Laden was dead and seemed to put more credence in outlandish conspiracy theories.
The rally in Karachi was organised by a veritable who’s who of sectarian and militant organisations, many of which are banned, including the Jamaatud Dawa, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamat (ASWJ), formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and the anti-Ahmedi Majlis Tahafuz-e-Khatam Nabuwat (pbuh). They were joined by political parties such as the JUI and the Jamiat Ahle Hadith.
The rallies and pro-Bin Laden sermons come against the backdrop of increased threats by several banned militant organisations, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia sectarian outfit, which said that it would carry out attacks to avenge the killing.
A spokesperson for the group, who preferred to be called Ali Sher Haideri said: “The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi will avenge the killing of the great leader [Osama Bin Laden] and now will target ministers of the incumbent government and security personnel.”
With additional reporting by Faraz Khan in Karachi, Obaid Abbasi and Azam Khan in Islamabad, Mudassar Raja in Rawalpindi, and Shehzad Baloch in Quetta
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2011.