Freed militant wanted to target Pak nukes ( Nuclear Weapons )
By Amir Mir
LAHORE: Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the al-Qaeda-linked ameer of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), has been freed by the Punjab government under mysterious circumstances despite the fact that he is still wanted in several high-profile cases of terrorism.
His most significant target was to blow up the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant at Kundian, Punjab, by using a group of five Americans who had already been convicted by an anti-terrorism court in June 2010 on terrorism charges.
According to the charge sheet filed by Sargodha Police against the five Americans, who had been detained in Sargodha on December 9, 2009 in a police raid on a house with links to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), they were in contact with Qari Saifullah Akhtar who had encouraged them to travel to Pakistan all the way from the United States “to wage jehad against those siding with the forces of infidel”. The evidence presented by the prosecution against the American nationals included phone calls, emails, and other documents that linked them to Qari Saifullah Akhtar.
The charge sheet had described the HUJI ameer as a fugitive, adding that he had recruited the five Americans after watching their videos posted on YouTube. Having obtained their email addresses through YouTube postings, Qari Saifullah subsequently encouraged them to travel to Pakistan for the purpose of “waging jehad”. A few weeks later, the group of Americans departed US from the Dulles International Airport and travelled to Karachi, and then Hyderabad, to Lahore, and finally to Sargodha.
Once arrested, their trial was closed to journalists and was heard by a single judge in a special anti-terrorism court. According to the prosecution, one of the men had left an 11-minutes-long video expressing his view that Muslim lands must be defended against the western invaders. According to investigations carried out by the Pakistani authorities, the five Americans from Washington DC had planned to meet a contact close to the Pak-Afghan border between Punjab and the Frontier provinces, and then to proceed to the stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. During the course of investigations, that contact turned out to be Qari Saifullah Akhtar, whom Ahmed Minni, one of the five Americans, had met on the internet after he had posted remarks praising a video footage on YouTube, showing Taliban-led attacks on the US-led Allied Forces in Afghanistan.
All the five US nationals — Waqar Hussain Khan, Ahmed Minni, Ramy Zamzam, Aman Yemer and Umar Farooq were subsequently charged with five counts of conspiracy to target Pakistani nuclear installations in Chashma, attacking Pakistan Air Force bases in Sargodha and Mianwali, raising funds to carry out terrorist activities, waging war against Pakistan and planning to wage war against a friendly country. On June 24, 2010, Judge Mian Anwar Nazir found them guilty and sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment and fines of $823 each for conspiring against the state and an additional five years for financing a militant organisation.
Interestingly, the day the five Americans were convicted, their militant handler, Qari Saifullah, was declared an absconder despite the fact that he had already been arrested from Rawalpindi by that time and was in the custody of the Pakistani security agencies. Qari Saifullah had to abandon Waziristan after he was wounded in a US drone attack. He subsequently travelled to Peshawar and then to Rawalpindi for treatment before being arrested and taken to Lahore, only to be placed under house arrest in Chishtian tehsil of Punjab in August 2010, before being released in the first week of December.
However, it is not for the first time that Qari Saifullah, believed to be a tool of the intelligence establishment, has eluded prosecution. Though his role in the Karachi suicide attack targeting the welcome procession of Benazir Bhutto could not be explored further due to an apparent lack of interest by the agencies, his previous involvement in a failed coup plot in 1995 had projected him as one of the deadliest militants who, from the establishment’s viewpoint, had gone astray. A total of 40 army officers were arrested by the Military Intelligence (MI), including four serving army officers, headed by Major General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and Brigadier Mustansar Billa. However, Qari Saifullah was described as the ideologue of the religiously motivated khakis. The arrested army officers were accused of plotting to first take over the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi during the Corps Commanders Conference and overthrow the Benazir government to enforce Khilafat system in Pakistan.
Qari Saifullah was arrested on September 23, 1995 when the Pakistani Customs Intelligence personnel stopped a Brigadier’s staff car, which was leading a cavalcade of several vehicles, including a truck carrying arms and ammunition. Video and audio cassettes of their statements that were to be broadcast on the state run TV and radio after the coup were also discovered. The arrested comprised two groups, the inner group of plotters who attempted to topple the government and the larger group of sympathisers who extended their moral/verbal support and were more or less motivated by their plan to extend complete support to the cause of mujahedeen in Jammu Kashmir. It was further revealed that the plan included plotting to kill Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and some cabinet members including the incumbent President Asif Ali Zardari, who was a federal minister at that time.
The Field General Court Martial (FGCM) was constituted at Attock and was presided by Major General Zahid Hasan amongst four other officers (two Brigadiers and two Colonels including then Brigadier — later Lieutenant General — Javed Alam Khan. The suspects were charged under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 and Pakistan Penal Code for “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline”, “conspiring to wage war against Pakistan” and “attempting to seduce any person from his allegiance to the government”.
However, the trial proved quite easy as Qari Saifullah Akhtar decided to become approver against his fellow plotters and acted as a star prosecution witness. There was documentary evidence in the form of the tapes, arms and ammunition and none of the accused really denied the charges either. After investigations were completed, the FGCM started its proceedings on December 31, 1995 and the sentences were announced on October 30, 1996.
The coup plotters were convicted by the FGCM and awarded different sentences ranging from two to 14 years. Qari Saifullah was kept under protective custody for a few months and as soon as the second Bhutto government was dismissed in 1996, he was set free by the agencies; he went to Afghanistan and was inducted into the cabinet of the Taliban ameer, Mulla Omar, as his adviser on political affairs.