By Abubakar Siddique
As Afghanistan recovers from a deadly and unprecedented attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Kabul, the finger of blame is pointing directly at a Sunni extremist group with a long history of carrying out such attacks in neighboring Pakistan.
At least 55 people were killed and more than 160 wounded in the December 6 suicide attack, which occurred as Shi’ite worshippers were assembled outside the shrine to commemorate Ashura, a Shi’ite religious holiday. A separate attack near an Ashura procession in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif killed at least four people.
Shortly after the midday attack in Kabul, a man claiming to be a spokesman for Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami contacted RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal to claim responsibility on behalf of the Pakistan-based militant group.
It was impossible to independently verify the claim made by the man, who identified himself as Qari Abubakar Mansoor.
The man first contacted a Radio Mashaal correspondent in Pakistan who covers the western Kurram tribal district, where the group is believed to be headquartered. A man going by the name of Qari Abubakar had previously contacted Radio Mashaal to provide information regarding the Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami. Following RFE/RL’s report tying the group to the attack in Afghanistan, various media reported receiving similar claims from the same spokesman.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who cut short a European trip and returned to the Afghan capital to deal with the crisis, appeared to accept that the attack was carried out by Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami. While visiting survivors of the attack in the hospital, he was quoted as telling reporters that “we are investigating this issue and we are going to talk to the Pakistani government about it.”
Ties To Al-Qaeda, Taliban
Farzana Sheikh, a Pakistan specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London, says the group evolved from the Anjuman-e Sipahe Shaba Pakistan, an extremist political party intent on transforming Pakistan into a Sunni state. One of its splinter groups, Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) was considered the most deadly sectarian militia in the South Asian state in the 1990s.
Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami is now considered a splinter group of the LeJ, which was banned in Pakistan in 2002 because of its role in the killing of thousands of Shi’a.
“Its roots really lie in southern Punjab [Province], in the district of Jhang, from where they have clearly spread to other parts of Pakistan,” Sheikh says, “but particularly the [southwestern province of] Balochistan, where they have been responsible, and indeed claimed responsibility, for a series of murderous attacks against Shi’a Hazaras.”
Sheikh says that the group once enjoyed close links to Pakistani intelligence agencies. This, she notes, enabled LeJ to maintain bases in Taliban-controlled Afghan regions because of Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban regime. However, the LeJ’s Shi’a-killing campaign made it a prime security threat for Pakistan, according to observers.
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