Pakistani police commanders killed in al Qaida-linked attack


McClatchy Foreign Staff

Nearly half the top police commanders in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province were killed Thursday when insurgents shot and killed a police inspector, then bombed his funeral hours later, where most of the province’s police commanders had gathered. At least 30 people were reported dead and 40 wounded.

The attack in Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, was claimed by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the formal name for the Pakistani Taliban. The claim of responsibility called it revenge for a recent crackdown on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an al Qaida-linked ally. But militants told McClatchy they thought Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was the more likely suspect because the Pakistani Taliban lacked the local resources to launch any such an operation in Quetta.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has enjoyed a resurgence recently thanks to help from Afghan Taliban who’ve been flocking to Baluchistan in anticipation of an expected Pakistani military operation in northern Pakistan.

The attack was similar to one June 15 in which a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi suicide bomber targeted a bus full of female university students in Quetta and other Lashkar-e-Jhangvi fighters then besieged the hospital where survivors had been taken for treatment.

Authorities said Thursday’s two-pronged assault began with the shooting of a police inspector who was out shopping with his family in preparation for the celebration Friday of the Muslim festival of Eid al Fitr, a holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

When colleagues converged on a mosque in the afternoon to participate in funeral prayers for their colleague, a suicide bomber struck. Among the dead was province’s head of police operations and his command team. The provincial police chief and the chief of police for Quetta narrowly escaped.

The attack was the latest sign that a major migration of Afghan Taliban and al Qaida fighters is underway from North Waziristan in northern Pakistan, which has been their refuge for most of the last decade, to Baluchistan, which has been the scene of a low-intensity rebellion against the Pakistani government since 2004.

The U.S. has long sought a Pakistani offensive in North Waziristan, the focal point of CIA drone strikes against Taliban and al Qaida militants, and the base of operations for the Haqqani network, an Afghan faction notorious for high-profile attacks on Afghan government and U.S. targets in Kabul.

With the election in May of a new Pakistani government, the military has been expected to launch such an offensive at last.

Afghan Taliban and al Qaida fighters reportedly haven’t waited, however. The FATA Research Center, an Islamabad-based think tank that specializes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, reported in July that foreign militants have been leaving North Waziristan since the May election. Militants in Karachi have told McClatchy that most of those Afghan Taliban commanders are relocating to Baluchistan.

The migration has benefited Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has incorporated fighters, expertise and weapons into its organization, which previously had been almost wiped out. The tactical training allowed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to conduct a series of suicide bombing attacks last year that killed hundreds of Shiite Muslims in Quetta and Karachi, and it’s behind the group’s ability to carry out complex lethal attacks, according to the Karachi militants, who are area commanders for the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Baluchistan Liberation Army.

The militants said Taliban commanders had begun arriving in four districts of Baluchistan last September, but had stayed away from Quetta because of intense intelligence surveillance there by Pakistan, the U.S. and other countries that are involved in the conflict in Afghanistan.

Instead, the migrating Taliban commanders relocated to the remote districts of Kalat, Panjgur and Sibbi in the Baluchistan hinterland, and to Gwadar on the Arabian Sea coast, where China owns and operates a port.

Early Taliban migrants arrived in the guise of traveling preachers, living as guests of sympathetic clerics, but were detained by Pakistan’s security agencies, the militants said. The migrants have since avoided detection by moving into areas dominated by Baluch nationalist insurgents, who don’t share the Taliban’s extremist religious beliefs but have "welcomed a new ally at a time of mutual need," in the words of one of the militants.

"The Taliban had long ago realized that they would eventually have to leave the tribal areas, so they planned the move to Baluchistan several years ago. It is working through Lashkar-e-Jhangvi because it has the best network of any militant group there," one of the militants said.

The militant said the Taliban had been welcomed in camps operated by Baluch insurgents. The Pakistani military is unlikely to permit drone strikes on those camps, the militant said, because “it would create a public uproar." Drone strikes in North Waziristan are controversial in Pakistan, but generally they’re aimed at Afghan or other foreign insurgents. The Baluch encampments, however, are populated by Pakistanis.

Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Amjad Hadayat contributed to this report.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

In this Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo, Irom Sharmila is detained by policewomen in Imphal, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. The frail Indian activist who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 14 years to protest alleged military brutality scuffled with police Friday as they took her back to the same government hospital where she had been force-fed. Sharmila, 42, vowed to continue the hunger strike that landed her in prison for the past 14 years. She walked free on Wednesday after a court threw out the charges of attempted suicide against her. Attempted suicide is a crime in India. (AP Photo/Press Trust of India) INDIA OUT

    India police re-arrest fasting activist

    A lawyer says police have re-arrested a frail Indian activist who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 14 years to protest alleged military brutality in India's remote northeast.

  • Russian aid trucks begin to leave Ukraine

    Some of the trucks in a Russian aid convoy that entered Ukraine in a move denounced by Kiev as an invasion are returning to Russia.

  • China shuts down Beijing Independent Film Festival

    Chinese authorities shut down an independent film festival on its opening day Saturday, a rare venue for the showing of films that may be critical of the government in a country with tight controls, organizers said.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category