Pakistan’s counter-terrorism officials are concerned about the battle-hardened and well-trained militants returning from Syria and fear that they could launch major terrorist attacks in the country. The killing of four policemen last week in Karachi has set off alarm bells in the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Sindh police after the attack was claimed by a relatively unknown splinter group of militants returning from Syria.
Though target killing of policemen and security personnel is not new in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, but credible leads and information with the CTD confirm that the new outfit – Ansar-ul-Sharia Pakistan – carried out the deadly attack. Well-informed sources in the CTD confirmed that earlier in June they had sent a report to the home department warning them that a group of militants which had recently returned to Pakistan from Syria after fighting for the ISIS had formed its own splinter group and could carry out terrorist attacks.
“The information we have indicates that since April this outfit has carried out three attacks. A retired army officer, Colonel Tahir Nagi was targeted near Baluch Colony while two policemen were gunned down in New Town area in May. And the latest attack has come in which four policemen were killed while having Iftaar at a hotel last week,” one source said. He said a forensic examination of the used bullet cases showed they were fired from the same weapon, a 9mm pistol.
“We are concerned because these returning militants from Syria are battle-hardened and well-trained and they could launch major terrorist attacks in parts of the country,” another source said. He said the militants had fought in Syria under the banner of Jabhat al-Nusra which is loyal to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri rather than ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“The group announced its formation on social media and since than the leads we have show these are battle-hardened militants whose primary targets appear to be policemen and retired security officials,” he added. Senior CTD official Raja Umar Khatab said what was more concerning for them was that in recent times they had found out that the ISIS and the groups supporting it had been targeting educated young men and women in educational institutions and brainwashing them into joining their ranks.
“Some of the people who have returned from Syria after fighting there also appear to be educated and well-positioned persons,” he added.