Pakistan asks Kabul to arrest TTP chief

Shares fresh evidence linking group to Besham Attack

News Desk May 26, 2024
Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi addresses a press conference in Lahore on May 26, 2024. PHOTO: APP


Pakistan on Sunday asked the Afghan Taliban government to arrest the entire leadership of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and put them on trial after sharing fresh evidence linking the TTP to the March 26 terrorist attack on Chinese engineers in Besham.

The interim government in Kabul was also told in clear terms that without action against the TTP, relations between the two countries would not move forward.

Speaking at a press conference in Lahore along with National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Coordinator Rai Tahir, Minister for Interior Mohsen Naqvi said evidence of Afghan linkage to the Besham attack had been shared with the Afghan government.

"Unfortunately, there is no positive response yet from the Afghan government," Naqvi said, adding that Pakistan not only demands the arrest of the three TTP terrorists responsible for the Besham attack but also wants the detention of the entire TTP leadership, including its chief Noor Wali Mehsud.

The interior minister said if the Afghan government could not put them on trial, then all the TTP leadership should be handed over to Pakistan.

On March 26, a convoy of 12 vehicles transporting Chinese nationals from Islamabad to the Dassu Hydropower Project in the Kohistan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) was targeted about 6 km after crossing Besham city on the main Karakoram Highway.

The convoy, which included two vehicles of security personnel, was overtaking a van when that van exploded at 1:01 pm.

One bus carrying Chinese nationals bore the brunt of the blast and fell into a 150-foot-deep ravine. All five Chinese nationals in that bus and their Pakistani driver were killed on the spot. Local police and rescue teams immediately reached the crime scene, which was later cordoned off.

Read more: CTD arrests ‘four key TTP men’ involved in Besham attack

According to the NACTA coordinator, a forensic team of the K-P counter-terrorism department (CTD) collected relevant evidence from the crime scene immediately after the incident. This evidence, he said, proved instrumental in detecting the entire terrorist network.

He said body parts found at the crime scene near parts of the exploded vehicle made it evident that the driver of the exploding vehicle was a suicide bomber. "It was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack. Body parts of the suicide bomber and parts of the VBIED vehicle were sent to the forensic lab for analysis, including DNA analysis. Forensic reports have been received."

The government formed a joint investigation team (JIT) headed by the NACTA national coordinator. Launching a full-scale investigation, the JIT visited the crime scene and inspected the site. All law enforcement agencies (LEAs) assisted the JIT.

According to Rai Tahir, the case has now been fully solved thanks to the collective efforts of all LEAs, intelligence agencies, and the CTD. "The authorities have busted the terrorist network involved in this heinous attack and arrested eleven accused/terrorists, including the main executors of the attack, handlers of the suicide bomber, and facilitators."

He said the recovery of a cell phone used by the suicide bomber just before the attack from the crime scene was a very important first clue that ultimately led to the detection of the case and the arrest of the perpetrators. "The investigation, based on ocular, physical, and technical evidence obtained through forensic analyses, has revealed that the attack was planned in Afghanistan in collaboration with accused/terrorists in Pakistan.

"According to electronic evidence and evidence obtained from the main accused/terrorist Adil Shehbaz, the terrorists Hazrat Bilal Farman, Bakhtiar Shah, and Qari Asadullah (Ulswal of TTP Shanga now living in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan) planned the attack on orders of the leadership of the TTP based in Afghanistan, including its Ameer Noor Wali Mehsud.

Accused Adil Shehbaz further confirms that all the accused involved in the attack belong to the TTP," he said.

This fact, he said, is also confirmed by technical evidence extracted from electronic devices of the accused through forensic analysis. "Hazrat Bilal Farman is Ulswal—shadow governor—of the TTP Hazara Division. He was appointed to this position in January 2024 by TTP Ameer Noor Wali Mehsud ostensibly to plan and execute the attack. Farman is based in Kunar, Afghanistan, and keeps visiting Pakistan to commit acts of terrorism. He actively engaged a group of terrorists to complete the task," he added.

Also read: Taliban refute Pakistan’s claim of Afghan involvement in Besham attack

According to the NACTA official, the investigation has further revealed that accused Khan Lala purchased the car in Afghanistan with the aid and abetment of Bakhtiar Shah and Qari Asadullah and turned it into a VBIED by fitting explosives in its doors and body. He managed its transportation from Afghanistan to Pakistan through various people.

He used the services of accused Imran Swati, a car dealer in Chakdara, to transport the car to Chakdara from the Afghan border.

The said accused Imran Swati utilized the services of four people—Sakha Ullah of district Chaman, Abdullah of Chaman, Abdul Rehman of Kuchlak, Quetta, and Kamal Khan of Abu Zai, district Zhob—to transport the VBIED. The main accused Adil Shehbaz played a key role in the execution of the attack.

He, along with another accused Wajid, took the car after paying an amount of 260,000 to Imran Swati, transported the car from Chakdara to Dandai near Besham, and got it parked at a petrol pump in Thakot.

The accused Adil Shehbaz also played a major role in housing the suicide bomber with accused Shafiq Qureshi and Zahid Qureshi in their house near a town called Oghi in district Mansehra. Before residing with them, the suicide bomber was provided shelter by accused Faizullah and Fasihullah in district Haripur.

"Investigation has revealed that the suicide bomber was an Afghan national known to local handlers by the name of Muttaqi. Electronic and physical evidence shows his Afghan nationality." According to Tahir, the suicide bomber took the explosive-laden car to the crime scene on the day of the incident. "At 1:01 pm on March 26, when the convoy of Chinese nationals was overtaking his car, the suicide bomber exploded the VBIED. At the time of the attack, the accused/terrorist Hazrat Bilal Farman was taking instructions from Khan Lala from Afghanistan through an Afghan cell phone number."

He said forensic analysis of that Afghan cell phone number showed that Khan Lala was in contact with the senior leadership of the TTP in Afghanistan at the same time. Forensic analysis further revealed that Noor Wali Mehsud and other senior leaders were present in Kunar, Afghanistan, from March 24 to 26 to oversee the attack.

The eleven accused

Rai Tahir said the eleven accused/terrorists—Adil Shehbaz, Shafiq Qureshi, Zahid Qureshi, Nazeer Hussain, Faizullah, Fasih Ullah, Imran Swati, Sakha Ullah, Abdullah, Abdul Rehman, and Kamal Khan—are in police custody on physical remand. "They will face trial in the local Anti-Terrorism Court where the challan will be submitted after completing legal formalities. The remaining accused/terrorists belonging to this network, including Hazrat Bilal Farman, will be arrested soon."

He said the highest punishment will be sought by the prosecution for the accused as a consequence of the trial. "The trial will be conducted speedily, and the terrorists will be brought to justice," Tahir said.

He said mutual legal assistance (MLA) will be sought from the interim Afghan government for the arrest of the accused/terrorists from Afghanistan, namely Bakhtiar Shah, Qari Asadullah, and Khan Lala. "The MLA will also be sought for the arrest and handing over to Pakistan of TTP Ameer Noor Wali Mehsud, Commander TTP Malakand Azmat Ullah Mehsud, and other senior leaders of the TTP."

He said Pakistan is taking strict border control measures with Afghanistan to forestall the possibility of such incidents in the future. "Intelligence-based operations (IBOs) have been intensified to dismantle terrorist networks of the TTP and other terrorist organizations which target foreigners, especially Chinese nationals," the interior minister added.


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