Accueil arrow Foreign analyzes arrow The ISIS-Al-Qaeda Competition in Pakistan


Dr Farhan Zahid







Dr Farhan Zahid
Ph D, Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).





The mystery behind terrorist attack on the bus carrying members of Ismaili Shia community seems to be solved. The May 12 attack resulted in the deaths of 43 members of apolitical Ismaili-Shia business community at Safoora Goth, a suburb of Karachi.  The Karachi-based Islamist terrorist cell involved in perpetrating the attack is found out to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS), the new Al-Qaeda branch specially established by Al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri to lead terrorist operations in the Indian Subcontinent in order to compete with the Khurasan Chapter of Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) in Pakistan. Initially the cell tried to divert the attention of investigators by throwing Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) Khurasan Chapter's pamphlets on the spot. Falling into the trap the ISIS-affiliated Pakistani terrorist group Jundullah was quick enough to claim the responsibility. Later, it turned out to be an act of deception and the arrested individuals have long been associated with Al-Qaeda and its recently established local chapter, the AQIS. Nonetheless, the cell members were inspired of ISIS. The incident shows the beginning of a turf war between Al-Qaeda and ISIS which is trying hard to find ground in the Pakistani jihadi landscape.

Hats off to Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Karachi police which was quick enough to investigate the case and arrest the culprits involved. Some of the perpetrators involved in the carnage turned out to be from urbanized, highly educated and affluent socio-economic strata of society. Since an overwhelming majority in our society appear to believe in certain myths about terrorists - such as they are from down trodden stratum, illiterate, of unsound mental health, psychopaths, and most importantly irrational religious fanatics - therefore, breaking of such myths sometimes causes a feeling of surprise and dismay or perhaps a shock.

The arrest of Islamist terrorists belonging to Karachi based Al-Qaeda-linked Cell, and previously the arrest of Al-Qaeda and Taliban linked Hammad Adil Cell in Islamabad Capital Territory which was involved in most of terrorist attacks in Islamabad, showed us something very complex about terrorism in Pakistan. Terrorism now seems to be more middle-class phenomenon than ever. The myths that poverty and illiteracy breed terrorism have long been smashed by western researchers of terrorism studies, though, still unacceptable to masses in third world countries.

The 27 year old mastermind Saad Aziz is a business graduate from a reputed institution, owner of a successful restaurant in Karachi (The Cactus) and son of a former director of Unilever Pakistan. He has everything required for a perfect terrorist : he is ideologically motivated, affluent, highly educated, rational in decision making as far as planning of terrorist attacks were concerned, opted for terrorism as a choice, considers terrorism as means for an end, and has been able to make tactically calculated moves for sending the message across.

Unfortunately Saad is not an exception. His comrades also involved in the murder of Sabeen Mahmud and in Safoora incident match his qualifications :  Hafiz Nasir holds a Masters in Islamic Studies from the Shaikh Zayd Center of Islamic Studies at University of Karachi ; and Muhammad Azhar Ishrat is an electronics engineer from Sir Syed Engineering University of Science and Technology, who also worked at Siemens Pakistan and at Mobilink. It appears that the cell, though not part of Jundullah, was inspired of past Jundullah activities in Karachi. Before the surfacing of this cell, Jundullah, another Islamist terrorist group from Karachi, had quite similar traits.                          Jundullah is no ordinary terrorist organization. An ideal terrorist organization is the one living in shadows with a small cell structure having nodes linked to a network attached to a strong hub. Its limited membership allowed it to stay untouched for many years. Most of its arrested leaders are from middle class Punjabi families settled in Karachi, urbanized, and with sound educational backgrounds, showing its peculiar nature. Jundullaah's first Emir Ata ur Rehman was a student of Statistics department of University of Karachi and a worker of Islami Jamiat-e-Talba. He later joined Harkat ul Mujahedeen and during training in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan came closer to Al-Qaeda leadership. Other members arrested in 2007 included Deputy Emir Shahzad Ahmed Bajwa was an engineer. In the past, the Jundullah militants also had the financial blessings from notorious Waheed Brothers (Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed) who bankrolled the organization for launching terrorist attacks in Karachi for many years before the arrest of Akmal in Karachi, and death of Arshad in a US drone strike in tribal areas.

Terrorist attacks claimed by Jundullah included the bombing of US Consulate in Karachi, bombing of Pakistan-American Cultural Center, bomb attack outside a concert hall where an Indian singer was performing in Karachi, bomb blast at Bible Society in Karachi, bomb attack on police station and armed attack on a Pakistan Ranger's mobile in 2008. According to Sindh Police sources, the organization mostly recruits educated youth from middle class families of Karachi and is has the ability of rising like a phoenix. According to details reported by police sources, the above mentioned AQIS-affiliated cell was also involved in perpetrating a number of terrorist attacks with similar tactics previously used by Junduallah. Some of those attacks were : bomb attacks on police and Rangers' mobiles, target killings of police personnel in Karachi, target killing of three MQM workers, bomb attacks on Bohri community, grenade attacks on several schools in Karachi, suicide attack on a Rangers' Brigadier, targeting of US NGO worker Debra Lobo, murder of Sabeen Mahmud, and finally the Safoora Goth incident.

The case studies of Jundullah and recently busted AQIS cell may allow us to view terrorism in an objective and rational manner; both cells were composed of smart, adaptive, trained, educated and highly motivated Islamist terrorists, smashing many myths about terrorism.

In fact, it is high time for Pakistani counter-terrorism policy makers not to allow any ISIS-AQIS competition in Pakistan. The ISIS on its part should not be allowed to flex its muscles in and consolidate its position in the jihadi landscape of Pakistan. The growth of ISIS in Pakistan has disturbed already entrenched Al-Qaeda. It appears to feel threatened and may attempt to compete with ISIS as far as ferocity and ruthlessness of terrorist tactics are concerned. A concerted counter-terrorism strategy, with all law enforcement and security apparatus aboard is required. The AQIS-ISIS competition could cause serious repercussions for Pakistan and pose great challenges for already burdened law enforcement and security agencies. Most importantly myths and preconceived notions about terrorists ought to be smashed, only then the complex nature of terrorism could be studied objectively and terrorism as a phenomenon analysed in an empirical manner.

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