Hizbul Mujahideen leader Mast Gul, who led the militant siege of the Charar-e-Sharief shrine in 1995, was behind the suicide attack on Shias in Peshawar that killed nine people this week, a Pakistani Taliban commander has said.
Mufti Hasaan Swati, who claims to be the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander for the Peshawar area, told reporters in Miramshah that he had tasked Mast Gul alias Haroon Khan with carrying out Tuesday’s bombing of Pak Hotel in the Kucha Risaldar area of Peshawar’s old city.
Swati described Mast Gul as a “militant commander for Peshawar”, Dawn reported on Thursday. The daily carried a picture of Gul and Swati sitting side by side under a TTP banner with AK-47 assault rifles in their laps.
This is the first time in over a decade that the 47-year-old Gul has been seen in public. Little has been known of his whereabouts since he was injured in an ambush near Peshawar in August 2003. He hails from Sadda in the Kurram tribal region, which has for long been a theatre of sectarian violence.
In March 1995, a group of militants — many of whom were foreigners — led by Gul took control of the 14th century Charar-e-Sharief shrine in Budgam for two months. The shrine was ultimately destroyed in a fire that the Army said began after the militants holed up inside triggered blasts. Twenty militants, two soldiers and five civilians were killed in the standoff, but Gul and several others escaped.
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(ENS adds: Speaking at the Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express in July 2012, former defence minister Jaswant Singh claimed that he knew “for a fact that Mast Gul vacated the dargah and he was escorted all the way to the LoC and permitted to go”.)
When Gul returned to Pakistan, he was given a hero’s welcome by the Jamaat-e-Islami, which showcased him at meetings.
Dawn quoted Swati as saying that the attack on the Peshawar hotel, which is frequented by Shia visitors from Parachinar, was “carried out to avenge the death of innocent students of Madressah Taleemul Quran”, a Sunni seminary in Rawalpindi that was attacked during the Ashura riots of November 2013.
The daily said that Hasaan was a member of the TTP’s supreme shura, but it was unclear when he was appointed the group’s Peshawar chief.