From soldier to militant: The man behind the GHQ bombing

Dr Usman joined militant groups after disappearing from military duty.

Nadir Hassan August 19, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Mohammed Aqeel, a former member of the army’s medical corps, who goes by the alias of Dr Usman, was among the seven people convicted for their role in the attack on GHQ in November 2009.

Although the trial was held in secret in a military court, a government source says that Dr Usman was the one was handed down the death penalty. He was captured hiding in GHQ the day after the attack and was the only one of the seven convicted men who physically took part in the attack.

Dr Usman’s transition from army man to militant was sudden. A military official speaking on the condition of anonymity says that he deserted the nursing unit of the medical corps in 2001 and joined the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The official says, “We tried to track him down to his home in Kahuta but he had abandoned it.”

Dr Usman then joined the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, where he served under Ilyas Kashmiri. He was a leading commander of the Amjad Farooqi group, an off-shoot of the HuJI, that was headed by Kashmiri and mainly recruited from Punjab.

Even before the GHQ attack, Dr Usman was believed to be responsible for other high-profile attacks. According to the military official, Dr Usman was the mastermind of the February 2007 suicide bombing in Islamabad targeting then-Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009.

The military believed that Dr Usman had a lot of autonomy within the Amajd Farooqi group and that he was behind the killing of Lt Gen Mushtaq Baig, the surgeon general of the army in a suicide attack in February 2008. The military official says that Dr Usman revealed during interrogations that he had personally selected Baig as a target and that he had served under him in the medical corps.

Last month, seven people were released from jail in connection with the murder of Baig on the orders of the Islamabad High Court. They were detained earlier in the year after they were acquitted in 2010 by the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court.

Dr Usman was not among those originally charged for the murder of Baig because, says a government official, the military believed that he was already in custody.

A Dr Usman was arrested in connection with the Islamabad Marriott bombing of September 2008. The military mistakenly believed that he was the same Dr Usman of the Amjad Farooqi group but he turned out to be a cadre of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. This Dr Usman was released from Adiala Jail in May 2010 after being acquitted by the anti-terrorism court.

It was only after he was discovered injured in the GHQ attack and interrogated that the military realized their mistake, says the government official.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.