STRATFOR Weekly Intelligence Update
The Evolution of a Pakistani Militant Network
By Sean Noonan and Scott Stewart
For many years now, STRATFOR has been carefully following the evolution of
"Lashkar-e-Taiba" (LeT), the name of a Pakistan-based jihadist group that
was formed in 1990 and existed until about 2001, when it was officially
abolished. In subsequent years, however, several major attacks were
attributed to LeT, including the November 2008 coordinated assault in
Mumbai, India <http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090114_mitigating_mumbai> .
Two years before that attack we wrote that the group, or at least its
remnant networks, were nebulous but still dangerous
<http://www.stratfor.com/let_nebulous_dangerous> . This nebulous nature was
highlighted in November 2008 when the "Deccan Mujahideen
<http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20081126_india_militant_name_game> ," a
previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks.
While the most famous leaders of the LeT networks, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and
Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, are under house arrest and in jail awaiting trial,
respectively, LeT still poses a significant threat. It's a threat that comes
not so much from LeT as a single jihadist force but LeT as a concept, a
banner under which various groups and individuals can gather, coordinate and
successfully conduct attacks.
Such is the ongoing evolution of the jihadist movement. And as this movement
becomes more diffuse
ts-threat> , it is important to look at brand-name jihadist groups like LeT,
al Qaeda, the Haqqani network and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as loosely
affiliated networks more than monolithic entities. With a debate under way
between and within these groups over who to target and with major
disruptions of their operations by various military and security forces, the
need for these groups to work together in order to carry out sensational
attacks has become clear. The result is a new, ad hoc template for jihadist
operations that is
defined and even harder for government leaders to explain to their
constituents and reporters to explain to their readers.
Thus, brand names like Lashkar-e-Taiba (which means Army of the Pure) will
continue to be used in public discourse while the planning and execution of
high-profile attacks grows ever more complex. While the threat posed by
these networks to the West and to India may not be strategic
<http://www.stratfor.com/al_qaeda_and_strategic_threat_u_s_homeland> , the
possibility of disparate though well-trained militants working together and
even with organized-crime elements does suggest a continuing tactical threat
that is worth examining in more detail.
The Network Formerly Known as Lashkar-e-Taiba
The history of the group of militants and preachers who created LeT and
their connections with other groups helps us understand how militant groups
develop and work together. Markaz al-Dawa wal-Irshad (MDI) and its militant
wing, LeT, was founded with the help of transnational militants based in
Afghanistan and aided by the Pakistani government. This allowed it to become
a financially-independent social-service organization that was able to
divert a significant portion of its funding to its militant wing.
The first stirrings of militancy within this network began in 1982, when
Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi traveled from Punjab, Pakistan, to Paktia,
Afghanistan, to fight with Deobandi militant groups. Lakhvi, who is
considered to have been the military commander of what was known as LeT and
is awaiting trial for his alleged role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, adheres
to an extreme version of the Ahl-e-Hadith (AeH) interpretation of Islam,
which is the South Asian version of the Salafist-Wahhabist trend in the Arab
world. In the simplest of terms, AeH is more conservative and traditional
than the doctrines of most militant groups operating along the Durand Line.
Militants there tend to follow an extreme brand of the Deobandi branch of
South Asian Sunni Islam, similar to the extreme ideology of al Qaeda
<http://www.stratfor.com/many_faces_wahhabism> 's Salafist jihadists.
Lakhvi created his own AeH-inspired militant group in 1984, and a year later
two academics, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Zafar Iqbal, created Jamaat ul-Dawa,
an Islamist AeH social organization. Before these groups were formed there
was already a major AeH political organization called Jamaat AeH, led by the
most well-known Pakistani AeH scholar, the late Allama Ehsan Elahi Zaheer,
who was assassinated in Lahore in 1987. His death allowed Saeed and Lakhvi's
movement to take off. It is important to note that AeH adherents comprise a
very small percentage of Pakistanis and that those following the movement
launched by Saeed and Lakhvi represent only a portion of those who ascribe
to AeH's ideology.
In 1986, Saeed and Lakhvi joined forces, creating Markaz al-Dawa wal-Irshad
(MDI) in Muridke, near Lahore, Pakistan. MDI had 17 founders, including
Saeed and Lakhvi as well as transnational militants originally from places
like Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories. While building facilities
in Muridke for social services, MDI also established its first militant
training camp in Paktia, then another in Kunar, Afghanistan, in 1987.
Throughout the next three decades, these camps often were operated in
cooperation with other militant groups, including al Qaeda.
MDI was established to accomplish two related missions. The first involved
peaceful, above-board activities like medical care, education, charitable
work and proselytizing. Its second and equally important mission was
military jihad, which the group considered obligatory for all Muslims. The
group first fought in Afghanistan along with Jamaat al-Dawa al-Quran
wal-Suna, a hardline Salafist group that shared MDI's ideology. Jamil
al-Rahman, the group's leader at the time, provided support to MDI's first
militant group and continued to work with MDI until his death in 1987.
The deaths of al-Rahman and Jamaat AeH leader Allama Ehsan Elahi Zaheer in
1987 gave the leaders of the nascent MDI the opportunity to supplant Jamaat
al-Dawa al-Quran wal-Suna and Jamaat AeH and grow quickly.
In 1990, the growing MDI officially launched LeT as its militant wing under
the command of Lakhvi, while Saeed remained emir of the overall
organization. This was when LeT first began to work with other groups
operating in Kashmir, since the Soviets had left Afghanistan and many of the
foreign mujahideen there were winding down their operations. In 1992, when
the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was finally defeated, many foreign
militants who had fought in Afghanistan left to fight in other places like
Kashmir. LeT is also known to have sent fighters to Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Tajikistan, but Kashmir became the group's primary focus.
MDI/LeT explained its concentration on Kashmir by arguing that it was the
closest Muslim territory that was occupied by non-believers. Since MDI/LeT
was a Punjabi entity, Kashmir was also the most accessible theater of jihad
for the group. Due to the group's origin and the history of the region,
Saeed and other members also bore personal grudges against India. In the
1990s, MDI/LeT also received substantial support from the Pakistani
Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) and military, which had its
own interest in supporting operations in Kashmir. At this point, MDI/LeT
developed relations with other groups operating in Kashmir, such as
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Unlike
these groups, however, MDI/LeT was considered easier to control because its
AeH sect of Islam was not very large and did not have the support of the
main AeH groups. With Pakistan's support came certain restraints, and many
LeT trainees said that as part of their indoctrination into the group they
were made to promise never to attack Pakistan.
LeT expanded its targeting beyond Kashmir to the rest of India in 1992,
after the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque during communal rioting in
Uttar Pradesh state, and similar unrest in Mumbai and Gujarat. LeT sent Azam
Cheema, who Saeed and Iqbal knew from their university days, to recruit
fighters in India. Indian militants from a group called Tanzim Islahul
Muslimeen were recruited into LeT, which staged its first major attack with
five coordinated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on trains in Mumbai and
Hyderabad on Dec. 5-6, 1993, the first anniversary of the destruction of the
Babri Masjid mosque. These are the first attacks in non-Kashmir India that
can be linked to LeT. The group used Tanzim Islahul Muslimeen networks in
the 1990s and later developed contacts with the Student Islamic Movement of
India and its offshoot militant group the Indian Mujahideen
The Student Islamic Movement of India/Indian Mujahideen network was useful
in recruiting and co-opting operatives, but it is a misconception to think
these indigenous Indian groups worked directly for LeT. In some cases,
Pakistanis from LeT provided IED training and other expertise to Indian
militants who carried out attacks, but these groups, while linked to the LeT
network, maintained their autonomy. The most recent attacks in India - Sept.
7 in Delhi
http://media.stratfor.com/stratfor_images/playbuttonsmall.gifJuly 13 in
Mumbai - probably have direct ties to these networks.
Between 1993 and 1995, LeT received its most substantial state support from
Pakistan, which helped build up LeT's military capability by organizing and
training its militants and providing weapons, equipment, campaign guidance
and border-crossing support in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. LeT operated
camps on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border as well as in Kashmir, in
places like Muzaffarabad.
At the same time, MDI built up a major social-services network, building
schools and hospitals and setting up charitable foundations throughout
Pakistan, though centered in Punjab. Its large complex in Muridke included
schools, a major hospital and a mosque. Some of its funding came through
official Saudi channels while other funding came through non-official
channels via Saudi members of MDI such as Abdul Rahman al-Surayhi and
Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, who reportedly facilitated much of the
funding to establish the original Muridke complex.
As MDI focused on dawah, or the preaching of Islam, it simultaneously
developed an infrastructure that was financially self-sustaining. For
example, it established Al-Dawah schools throughout Pakistan that charged
fees to those who could afford it and it began taxing its adherents. It also
became well-known for its charitable activities, placing donation boxes
throughout Pakistan. The group developed a reputation as an efficient
organization that provides quality social services, and this positive public
perception has made it difficult for the Pakistani government to crack down
On July 12, 1999, LeT carried out its first fidayeen, or suicide commando,
attack in Kashmir. Such attacks focus on inflicting as much damage as
possible before the attackers are killed. Their goal also was to engender as
much fear as possible and introduce a new intensity to the conflict there.
This attack occurred during the Kargil war, when Pakistani soldiers along
with its sponsored militants fought a pitched battle against Indian troops
in the Kargil district of Kashmir. This was the height of Pakistani state
support for the various militant groups operating in Kashmir, and it was a
critical, defining period for the LeT, which shifted its campaign from one
focused exclusively on Kashmir to one focused on India as a whole.
State support for LeT and other militant groups declined after the Kargil
war but fidayeen attacks continued and began to occur outside of Kashmir. In
the late 1990s and into the 2000s, there was much debate within LeT about
its targeting. When LeT was constrained operationally in Kashmir by its ISI
handlers, some members of the group wanted to conduct attacks in other
places. It's unclear at this point which attacks had Pakistani state support
and which did not, but the timing of many in relation to the ebb and flow of
the Pakistani-Indian political situation indicates Pakistani support and
control, even if it came only from factions within the ISI or military. The
first LeT attack outside of Kashmir took place on Dec. 22, 2000, against the
Red Fort in Delhi.
The Post-9/11 Name Game
In the months following 9/11, many Pakistan-based jihadist groups were
"banned" by the Pakistani government. They were warned beforehand and moved
their funds into physical assets or under different names. LeT claimed that
it split with MDI, with new LeT leader Maula Abdul Wahid al-Kashmiri saying
the group now was strictly a Kashmiri militant organization. Despite these
claims, however, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi was still considered supreme
commander. MDI was dissolved and replaced by Jamaat-ul-Dawa, the original
name used by Saeed and Iqbal's group. Notably, both al-Kashmiri and Lakhvi
were also part of the Jamaat-ul-Dawa executive board, indicating that close
ties remained between the two groups.
In January 2002, LeT was declared illegal, and the Pakistani government
began to use the word "defunct" to describe it. In reality it wasn't
defunct; it had begun merely operating under different names. The group's
capability to carry out attacks was temporarily limited, probably on orders
from the Pakistani government through Jamaat-ul-Dawa's leadership.
At this point, LeT's various factions began to split and re-network in
various ways. For example, Abdur Rehman Syed, a senior operational planner
involved in David Headley's surveillance of Mumbai targets, left LeT around
2004. As a major in the Pakistani army he had been ordered to fight fleeing
Taliban on the Durand Line in 2001. He refused and joined LeT. In 2004 he
began working with Ilyas Kashmiri and Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami. Two other
senior LeT leaders, former Pakistani Maj. Haroon Ashiq and his brother Capt.
Kurram Ashiq, had left Pakistan's Special Services Group to join LeT around
2001. By 2003 they had exited the group and were criticizing Lakhvi, the
former LeT military commander.
Despite leaving the larger organization, former members of the MDI/LeT still
often use the name "Lashkar-e-Taiba" in their public rhetoric when
describing their various affiliations, even though they do not consider
their new organizations to be offshoots of LeT. The same difficulties
observers face in trying to keep track of these spun-off factions has come
to haunt the factions themselves, which have a branding problem as they try
to raise money or recruit fighters. New names don't have the same power as
the well-established LeT brand, and many of the newer organizations continue
to use the LeT moniker in some form.
Operating Outside of South Asia
Organizations and networks that were once part of LeT have demonstrated the
capability to carry out insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, small-unit attacks
in Kashmir, fidayeen assaults in Kashmir and India and small IED attacks
throughout the region. Mumbai in 2008 was the most spectacular attack by an
LeT offshoot on an international scale, but to date the network has not
demonstrated the capability to conduct complex attacks outside the region.
That said, David Headley
's surveillance efforts in Denmark and other plots linked to LeT training
camps and factions do seem to have been inspired by al Qaeda's transnational
To date, these operations have failed, but they are worth noting. These
transnational LeT-linked plotters include the following:
* The Virginia Jihad Network
* Dhiren Barot (aka Abu Eisa al-Hind)
<http://www.stratfor.com/attacking_pyramid> , a Muslim convert of Indian
origin who grew up in the United Kingdom, was arrested there in 2004 and was
accused of a 2004 plot to detonate vehicle-borne improvised explosive
devices in underground parking lots and surveilling targets in the United
States in 2000-2001 for al Qaeda. He originally learned his craft in LeT
training camps in Pakistan.
* David Hicks, an Australian who was in LeT camps in 1999 and studied
at one of their madrassas. LeT provided a letter of introduction to al
Qaeda, which he joined in January 2001. He was captured in Afghanistan
following the U.S.-led invasion.
* Omar Khyam of the United Kingdom, who attended LeT training camps in
2000 before his family brought him home.
* The so-called "Crevice Network," members of which were arrested in
2004 and charged with attempting to build fertilizer-based IEDs in the
the auspices of al Qaeda.
* Willie Brigette <http://www.stratfor.com/australia_al_qaedas_sights>
, who had been connected to LeT networks in France and was trying to contact
a bombmaker in Australia in order to carry out attacks there when he was
arrested in October 2003.
While these cases suggest that the LeT threat persists, they also indicate
that the transnational threat posed by those portions of the network focused
on attacks outside of South Asia does not appear to be as potent as the
attack in Mumbai in 2008. One reason is the Pakistani support offered to
those who focus on operations in South Asia and particularly those who
target India. Investigations of the Mumbai attack revealed that current or
former ISI officers provided a considerable amount of training, operational
support and even real-time guidance to the Mumbai attack team.
It is unclear how far up the Pakistani command structure this support goes.
The most important point, though, is that Pakistani support in the Mumbai
attack provided the group responsible with capabilities that have not been
demonstrated by other parts of the network in other plots. In fact, without
this element of state support, many transnational plots linked to the LeT
network have been forced to rely on the same kind of "Kramer jihadists
<http://www.stratfor.com/beware_kramer_tradecraft_and_new_jihadists> " in
the West that the al Qaeda core has employed in recent years.
However, while these networks have not shown the capability to conduct a
spectacular attack since Mumbai, they continue to plan. With both the
capability and intention in place, it is probably only a matter of time
before they conduct additional attacks in India. The historical signature of
LeT attacks has been the use of armed assault tactics - taught originally by
the ISI and institutionalized by LeT doctrine - so attacks of this sort can
be expected. An attack of this sort outside of South Asia would be a stretch
for the groups that make up the post-LeT networks, but the cross-pollination
that is occurring among the various jihadist actors in Pakistan could help
facilitate planning and even operations if they pool resources. Faced with
the full attention of global counterterrorism efforts, such cooperation may
be one of the only ways that the transnational jihad can hope to gain any
traction, especially as its efforts to foster independent grassroots
jihadists have been largely ineffective.