Militant group is considered sophisticated, well-financed

Lashkar organization originated in Pakistan

August 05, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

Widely considered a creation of the Pakistani government, Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and declared a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S in 2001, but experts say it remains a sophisticated, well-trained and financed group.

Translated to "Army of the Pure," Lashkar was formed in 1990 as the armed wing of a Pakistani-based religious organization. The fighters initially fought alongside the Afghanistan mujahadeen but their focus and operations quickly turned to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, long a flash point between India and Pakistan.

It has been connected with the bombing and sometimes brutal killings of Indian military forces and civilians as one of the foremost groups there.

"They are without doubt the best organized, managed and funded group out of the jihadist groups operating in Kashmir," said Praveen Swami, who is the author of a forthcoming book, Covert in Kashmir.

Some experts say the group's focus could be expanding. Yesterday, FBI officials accused a Baltimore cabdriver of attending one of its jihadist camps in Pakistan and pursuing martial arts training there.

Last year 11 Muslim men in Virginia were charged with taking part in Lashkar paramilitary training; nine of them were convicted of the charges. The group has also been loosely connected to other Islamic terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.

Lashkar's founder, Hafiz Mohamed Saeed, has praised Osama bin Laden; after Pakistan's post-Sept.11 crackdown on militants, al-Qaida forces were said to be present in Lashkar member houses.

Last year, British forces detained a top Lashkar commander in Iraq. Most recently, news accounts have speculated that the London suicide bombers could have been connected to Lashkar members or camps.

The group maintains ties to groups, religious and military, around the world, ranging from the Philippines to Chechnya, and trained in Afghanistan until 2001.

"This is part of the pattern we've seen in recent years," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst at RAND and director of its Washington office. "LET (Lashkar-e-Taiba) is increasingly transforming itself from a localized group to one that is not only an al-Qaida surrogate but a global jihadist group. This is part of al-Qaida's strength: exploiting a group and getting them to buy into the global jihadist imperative."

The U.S. and Pakistan took actions to crack down on Lashkar shortly after it was implicated in the bombing of India's Parliament in 2001 by the Indian government.

But many experts say Pakistan continues to support Lashkar both logistically and financially. While Pakistan initially arrested the group's leader, Saeed, he has been released. He claims adherence to a different group that experts say is synonymous with Lashkar.

Sumit Ganguly, director of the Indian Studies Program at Indiana University, described the group as especially violent and adhering to a strict and xenophobic vision of Islam.

Some experts view Lashkar as a jihadist group focused mainly on the struggle in Kashmir and less concerned with battles elsewhere.

"They are the most disciplined and the most focused on the Kashmiri struggle," said Peter Chalk, a policy analyst for the Rand Corporation. "There may be certain elements within Lashkar that have an affinity toward a more global struggle, but I don't think that's reflective of the central leadership."

Staff writer Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.

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