Aqeel Ahmed is an ambitious Pakistani terrorist. He has been linked with an assassination attempt on the former president Pervez Musharraf, a suicide bomb that killed the army’s surgeon-general and the giant truck bomb that destroyed the Marriott hotel in Islamabad last year, killing more than 50.But Aqeel, a rogue soldier, saved his worst for this year. In March he led about a dozen men armed with Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers and grenades in an ambush on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus as it travelled to a Test match at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. After killing seven people, including six policemen, and injuring six Sri Lankan cricket stars, the gunmen vanished, leaving the world wondering who they were and why they did it.The brazen assault, which drew parallels with the terrorist attack on athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics, shook world sport. No cricket internationals have been played in Pakistan since.Now the aims and identities of the attackers are becoming clearer.Aqeel was arrested last Sunday during his latest terrorist venture – another commando-style raid, this time on army headquarters, which resulted in an 18-hour hostage drama.Zulfiqar Hameed, Lahore’s Special Superintendent of Police who led the investigation into the attack on the Sri Lankan team, said Aqeel’s capture was a breakthrough. ”We are hoping that he will give us new clues in the days to come,” he said.Investigators estimate 15-20 people were involved in that attack, including the gunmen, but it is already too late to apprehend all of them. Police say some who fired on the Sri Lankans may have blown themselves up in subsequent suicide attacks.Zulfiqar has pieced together what happened to the Sri Lankan team and identified all the attackers. Now he hopes to arrest those still alive before they can do any more damage.AFTER long and careful planning and preparation, the gang assembled to ambush the cricketers rode in two cars and three rickshaws to the Liberty Roundabout in Lahore early on March 3. They carried backpacks loaded with weapons, grenades, bombs, ammunition and food.”All of them were staying at different places,” Zulfiqar said. “They only assembled at the scene of the crime about a week prior to the incident. They stayed at different places while they were in Lahore and none of them knew one another’s true identities.”Each gunman had been given a special mobile phone to be thrown away after the attack. The phones were used to communicate with two attack co-ordinators who monitored the group and passed on all instructions.The location of the attack highlights its sophisticated planning. Liberty Roundabout, in the posh Gulberg neighbourhood, is less than a kilometre from the Test match venue and one of the few approach routes. Traffic moves relatively slowly around the expansive treeless traffic circle, making it ideal for an ambush.The gang split to three locations on the roundabout and waited.Just after 8.30am a convoy including the team bus, a van carrying match officials and a police escort turned on to the roundabout and immediately came under attack.Gunmen lurking near a roadside sugar cane juice stall fired two rockets at the bus. Both missed – one hit a bridal store and one hit the road, leaving a crater. Witnesses say a grenade was thrown under the bus, but did little damage.As the convoy moved around the traffic circle it came under intense small arms fire. Two vehicles, occupied by attackers, impeded the convoy’s progress as gunmen fired from three sides. The terrorists’ first target appeared to be the elite security personnel with the convoy.One police van came to a halt about half way around the roundabout. Five police inside were killed in the blaze of gunfire. A van carrying match officials, including the Australian umpires Simon Taufel and Steve Davis, was left stranded nearby when its driver was shot dead. Miraculously, the other occupants escaped unhurt.Zulfiqar said the gun battle lasted about five minutes, although witnesses believe it was at least twice that long. Police later found hundreds of spent shells. Given the scale of the raid it is surprising the death toll was not higher.The target, the team bus, was saved by the bravery of the driver, Mohammad Khalil, who manoeuvred around the obstacles on the roundabout and turned towards Gaddafi Stadium. Khalil was hailed as a hero in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.The attack did great damage to Pakistan’s reputation and dealt a huge blow to its national pride, but the terrorists failed in their main goal.”They wanted to take the Sri Lankan team hostage and then they would have asked for the release of very high-profile criminals,” Zulfiqar said.The getaway was perfectly executed. The vehicles in which the gang had arrived were abandoned along with much of the weaponry. Then each one managed to melt into the streets of Lahore undetected.”They did not come and go as a single team,” Zulfiqar said. ”They all used separate routes and separate transportation.”Security cameras near Liberty Roundabout showed some escaping by motorcycle – Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders. Others commandeered a rickshaw and forced the driver to take them to a bus stop near old Lahore, where they disappeared into the crowds. Another small group peeled off and hijacked a car. After about half a kilometre they jumped out and continued their escape by taxi.One lone gunman walked calmly in the direction of Gaddafi Stadium after the attack and slipped into a residential street. He entered a house with an open gate and found a driver named Ghulam Rasool reciting the Koran. He drew a weapon and forced him into his car. He then sat in the front seat and directed the driver to another suburb of Lahore before making his getaway.A few of the assailants even returned to the hostel they were staying in at Firdous Market, near Liberty Roundabout, and changed their clothes before leaving Lahore.Police believe most of the attackers escaped to Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan.THE attack on the Sri Lankan team was a great embarrassment for Pakistan and continues to haunt the security establishment. A judicial inquiry identified serious lapses in the security provided for the visitors and ordered disciplinary action against several Lahore policemen. Three senior officers who were suspended in April remain on “special duties”.A mobile phone left behind by one of the gunmen provided crucial leads and police say they have now identified all those directly involved in the attack.”Given the lack of wherewithal it’s been a good piece of investigative work,” a senior police investigator in Lahore told the Herald. ”It’s one thing to identify them but another thing to nab them.”Three months after the attack police made their first arrest: Mohammad Zubair, also known as Nek Mohammad. He is accused of shooting dead an unarmed traffic warden, Tanvir Iqbal, caught up in the battle at Liberty Roundabout.Zulfiqar said the interrogation of Zubair had yielded “useful” information. ”Hopefully we will be able to make more arrests soon,” he said.One of the attack’s planners, named Ishaq, has also been arrested and one of the gunmen was shot dead by police in June while trying to smuggle guns and explosives into Punjab, the province of which Lahore is the capital.All these men, like Aqeel, are from Punjab, where experts say extremism is putting down deeper roots. Police say attackers were also drawn from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and may have included some Afghans.Several of those involved have links with a group called the Punjabi Taliban, which has links to Taliban leaders in the Waziristan region.This underscores how militants from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and politically important province, are playing an increasing role in the campaign to destabilise the country.Aqeel’s military background has also sparked concern about the prevalence of extremist sympathies in the armed forces. Aqeel, sometimes referred to as Mohammed Aqeel, is also known as “Dr Usman” because of the years he worked with the Pakistan Army Medical Corps before he deserted and joined Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an extremist group from Punjab.Zulfiqar says a coalition of small extremist groups was responsible for the attack on the Sri Lankan team. Police believe some of them have links with Beitullah Mehsud, the commander of the Pakistan Taliban killed by a US drone earlier this year.”It’s not exactly one group. Several small groups came together for a big operation,” Zulfiqar said.”It was probably one of their biggest missions.”Investigators say it is possible that a “foreign hand” was also involved in the attack on the cricketers, although there is little solid proof.This view received official support last month when Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousef Raza Gilani, that Tamil Tigers had funded the operation.”We are in the process of investigating this; it’s new information that has just been received,” Zulfiqar said.The Lahore attack took place when the Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka were facing defeat after a two-decade civil war. The theory is that if the Sri Lankan team had been taken hostage, the Tigers could have somehow used this to bargain for a ceasefire.Zulfiqar said the well-funded nature of the attack raised suspicions about where the money came from.Police estimate the attack cost about 25,000,000 Pakistani rupees – more than $320,000.Aqeel Ahmed is believed to have sustained serious injuries in his latest terrorist raid. But if he recovers, Zulfiqar Hameed will have plenty of questions for him.Monday: Who’s who in Pakistan’s terrorist landscape.
Nanjing Night Net