Several tribal facilitators of senior al Qaeda commanders have been netted since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in mid-June 2014, The Express Tribune has learnt from highly credible sources. The revelation coincided with reports that officials are trying to brush under the carpet the brazen escape of 11 ‘hardcore terrorists’ from police custody in Mardan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The al Qaeda facilitators, arrested in intelligence-based operations, had raised funds and arranged logistics for the terrorist group. Most of them had sneaked out of North Waziristan along with hundreds of thousands of tribesmen when the military ordered evacuations before the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
The Hafiz Gul Bahadar-led Shura-e-Mujahideen North Waziristan was the main militant group in the region. But its top commanders, according to sources, had managed to flee the military operation and slip into neighbouring Afghanistan. “Hafiz Gul Bahadur is sheltering in the eastern Afghan province of Khost,” one source told The Express Tribune.
Gul Bahadur was a deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who was killed in a US drone strike in 2009. However, Gul Bahadur pulled out of the TTP after developing differences with Mehsud to set up his own group.
Sources said several top commanders of Gul Bahadur, including Maulana Sadiq Noor, Abdul Rahman and Saifur Rahman, and Hafiz Haider Janikhel from the Frontier Regions are also hiding in eastern Afghanistan.
The military feared that foot-soldiers and facilitators of the Taliban and al Qaeda might have fled posing as tribesmen following the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb to seek shelter in the camps set up by the government for displaced tribesmen and elsewhere in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Subsequently, intelligence-based operations were mounted which yielded several arrests. Though the exact figures are not available, sources said the arrested men included top facilitators of senior al Qaeda and Taliban commanders.
Siddique Khan, Doctor Khan and Shafoor Khan, from the Essori area of Waziristan, were arrested in the first week of July 2015. “Siddique Khan had hosted top al Qaeda commander Abu Hamza Rabi who was killed in a US drone attack on November 30, 2005,” another source said. “He also sheltered former Taliban commander Adnan Rashid who had masterminded the brazen jailbreak in Bannu in 2012.”
Recently, the security agencies set free Imran, a brother of Siddique, who was arrested around two years ago. Siddique’s son was also arrested along with three Central Asian terrorists while travelling from Lakki Marwat to Peshawar in 2012.
Another tribesman, Misbahullah, from Hurmaz village of Waziristan, is being interrogated on charges of sheltering al Qaeda and other foreign militants in Mirali and other parts of North Waziristan.
Though Gul Bahadur’s lieutenant Saifur Rahman, who belonged to Khushhali Turikhel area of Mirali, fled to Afghanistan, one of his close relatives is in custody of security agencies. The family had harboured top al Qaeda commanders Abu al Laith al Libbi, Abu Yahya al Libbi and Abu Hasham al Yemeni, who were later killed in US drone strikes in North Waziristan.
The detained tribesmen have also been charged with hosting and facilitating Egyptian al Qaeda commander Hamza Rabi, Saleh Somali and Abdul Rahman BM, the son-in-law of al Qaeda’s current chief Ayman al Zawahiri.
Meanwhile police authorities in K-P are trying to hush up the escape of 11 ‘hardcore terrorists’ from the Police Lines in Mardan two months ago.
Sources identified the escaped terrorists as Afghan national Muhammad Gul, aka Ahmad, Gul Muhammad, aka Umer Bajawri, Nihar Ali, aka Yasir, Akhtar Iqbal, aka Araf Khan, Majid Ali, aka Ishaq, Muhammad Ali, aka Yasin, Abdullah, aka Hamza, Muhammad Israil, aka Muhammada, Akhtar, aka Khan Jee, Arshad, aka Pir Saib and Muhammad Sulman, aka Ahmad.
Sources said a constable of Mardan police had helped the terrorists escape. Surprisingly, the ‘hardcore terrorists’ were kept in a barrack in the Police Lines. “Two constables were standing guard on them. The terrorists killed one constable, while the other helped them escape,” a senior police official told The Express Tribune.
A subsequent inquiry was put on the backburner, while senior police officials, when approached, refused to comment. According to intelligence agencies, these terrorists have fled to Afghanistan where they are planning attacks in K-P, especially in Mardan.
Sources said these terrorists belonged to the Swat and Mohmand Agency chapters of the TTP. They were involved in bomb blasts and attacks on law enforcement agencies. Officials told The Express Tribune that neither any of the terrorists nor the police constable who helped them flee has been arrested.