Pakistani militants expand abroad, starting in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has arrested suspected members of Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Pakistani militant group was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks -- and some fear it could target India again and provoke regional tensions.
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Since November, police have arrested more than a dozen suspected LeT members, including at least four Pakistanis and six Indians, who confessed that dozens more members remain on the loose. Another suspect confessed to being a recruiter for Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Pakistani group suspected in the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.Skip to next paragraph
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“What [LeT] have been able to do is lay a very solid foundation [in Bangladesh]. They’re playing for the longer game. They’re building up the infrastructure, building up the support networks,” says John Harris, a terrorism expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
More concerning, police say, was the suspects’ claim of assistance from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. “They explained that the ISI helped them with the preparation of their passports. They were taken to Pakistan for training,” says the police commander who led the raid. “They are all here to organize attacks against India.”
He says his force has confirmed that the ISI was providing funding and other support to the militants, but would not elaborate. His claims were not possible to verify.
Experts concur there is no direct evidence of ISI involvement, and disagree over how big a threat LeT poses in Bangladesh. The group’s size and strength here remain unclear. They debate whether LeT plans to attack only Indian interests, or also Bangladeshi and Western ones. “We never saw any evidence” that LeT planned to bomb embassies in Dhaka, says one Western diplomat here, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Pakistan’s intelligence establishment cultivated LeT in the 1990s as a proxy force to fight India but says it has severed all ties with the group.
In recent years, however, several Pakistani military officers have been detained on suspicion of aiding LeT. In January 2009, US prosecutors accused Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a Pakistani colonel who retired in 2007, of assisting David Headley, the American LeT operative who had provided surveillance for the Mumbai attacks and planned to attack the offices of a newspaper in Denmark. Syed was arrested in Pakistan but later released.
Also after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan detained five military officers – including two serving lieutenants – for having been in contact with Mr. Headley, according to Western media reports.
Still, in the past week the militant group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely thought to be a front for extremist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, appears to be trying to win the hearts and minds of Pakistanis by providing massive aid efforts to the more than 3 million displaced by the country's worst floods in decades.
Provoking regional tensions
What is happening in Bangladesh may be part of a regional contest between India and Pakistan. Pakistan fears that India is building up its presence in Afghanistan, under the cover of aid and diplomacy, to circle around to Pakistan’s west. And Pakistan, in turn, may be circling around India’s underbelly via Bangladesh.
The tussle appears to have been building for years. Two alleged LeT members arrested here told police they have been in the country for 15 years, recruiting members and planning logistics.