Tags: Al-Qaeda | Responsible | for | Deadly | Pakistan | Bombing?

Al-Qaeda Responsible for Deadly Pakistan Bombing?

Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM

The motive for the attack is as uncertain as the identity of those behind it. In the absence of a claim of responsibility, no one is sure whether the Frenchmen were targeted because they were Westerners, because they were French, or because of the military contract they were working on.

A bomber detonated his powerful charge in a car alongside a minibus outside the Sheraton Hotel in Pakistan's largest city early Wednesday, killing himself and 13 others, and wounding another 23.

The Sheraton and other international hotels nearby are frequented by Westerners. The French victims were from a state-owned company that is helping the Pakistan Navy build three submarines.

Pakistan government officials expressed doubt that locally-based groups could have carried out an attack of this nature, and police officials said they could not rule out the possibility that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks.

French armed forces chief General Jean-Pierre Kelche went further, saying there was a "significant likelihood" that al-Qaeda was responsible.

Osama bin Laden's international terrorist network is suspected of carrying out terror attacks against U.S. targets in New York and Washington last September 11, in Yemen in 2000 and in East Africa in 1998.

After Sept. 11, U.S.-led military forces attacked al-Qaeda forces and their Taliban backers in Afghanistan, in a campaign where neighboring Pakistan became a key U.S. ally.

U.S. officials believe that many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters fled to Pakistan, where militant groups are openly sympathetic to the two Islamist organizations. Pakistan is seeking U.S. help in making its border with Afghanistan more secure.

Kelche says France was the target because of its backing of the Afghanistan campaign.

France has contributed to the war in Afghanistan, although not without criticism of the U.S. approach to terrorism. Its government has tackled terrorism at home, freezing some al-Qaeda-linked bank accounts.

Westerners have been targeted in Pakistan twice before this year -- U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi last January and subsequently murdered, and two U.S. citizens were among five victims of an armed attack on an Islamabad church in March.

Those who suggest al-Qaeda may be behind the Karachi blast note that Westerners were targeted, a significant amount of explosive was used, and the bomber died in the attack.

The Sept. 11 attacks, as well as earlier bombings of the USS Cole in Aden and U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were all carried out by terrorists who killed themselves in the process.

The absence of any claim of responsibility for the Karachi blast is also in line with earlier attacks blamed by the U.S. on al-Qaeda.

But a New Delhi-based terrorism expert said Thursday al-Qaeda is not the only organization that avoids claiming responsibility for terror attacks.

In the post-Sept.11 era, terrorist groups are far less likely to draw attention to themselves than they had been before, said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management's South Asia Terrorism Portal.

This reluctance to claim responsibility stems from an awareness that the negative consequences -- as were apparent in Afghanistan -- outweighed the political advantages gained, he said.

Possible suspects in Wednesday's attack could include one of at least four Pakistan terrorist groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda, according to Sahni.

The one with the strongest presence in the Karachi area is Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of whose leading members, Sheikh Omar, is facing trial in Pakistan for the Daniel Pearl killing.

But, Sahni argued, both Jaish and another leading terror group, Lashkar-e-Toiba, were closely linked and even beholden to the Pakistani military establishment, and so were highly unlikely to have knowingly hurt the country's military interests by targeting technicians helping Pakistan build submarines.

The pro-military stance of these militants has been seen in their demands made at various times that the U.S. release F-16 fighters ordered by Pakistan in the late 1980s but impounded by Washington because of the country's nuclear weapon program. The planes' release was one of the demands made by Daniel Pearl's kidnappers.

Sahni said that, in his view, the victory in Afghanistan remained ambiguous, and "the terrorist war is only now beginning."

Although al-Qaeda and the Taliban had suffered territorial losses in Afghanistan, they are regrouping, and neither they nor groups sympathetic to them in Pakistan regard Afghanistan as a defeat.

Sahni predicted more attacks in foreigners in the region.

"Looking at it from the perspective of Islamic terrorists, this is the only action which attracts public attention to their cause. Their fundamental animosity is against the West."

Another regional security analyst offering a "tentative assessment," B. Raman, said the choice of target in Wednesday's bombing could suggest an anti-Western, anti-French or anti-military agenda - or all three.

On the al-Qaeda theory, Raman said despite French support for the coalition, its role in Afghanistan had been minimal.

Moreover, pro-bin Laden religious publications generally directed their anger at three targets -- the U.S., Israel and India.

"There is hardly any criticism of the other [coalition] members for their role against bin Laden. Surprisingly, there has been no criticism of even the British, not to talk of the French, by the Jehadi [militant Islamic] organizations allied with bin Laden," said Raman, who is the director of the Institute For Topical Studies in Chennai, India.

On the other hand, one possible reason for al-Qaeda to target France would be French cooperation with the U.S. investigation into the case of "shoe-bomber," Richard Reid, whose journey to the U.S. with explosives hidden in his shoes last December began in Paris.

It was while investigating Islamist groups' links to Reid that Daniel Pearl went missing in Karachi.

As far as the possibility of domestic terrorism goes, some Pakistan-based groups have attacked foreigners in the past, although not all have favored suicide bombings.

Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba have used the tactic, Raman said. But he, too, voiced skepticism that either group would have intentionally attacked the interests of Islamabad's military establishment.

The Texas-based independent analyst Stratfor believes the attack is more likely the work of a Pakistani group than al-Qaeda.

It said bin Laden's group appeared to choose its targets strategically, while locally-based groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda took a more tactical approach.

The attack was an opportunity for militants to send a message to Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, about his "perceived acquiescence" to U.S. goals.

In Stratfor's view, the attack may even be detrimental to al-Qaeda in that it could push France from its current "ambiguous" stance, to a position of being more supportive of the war against terror.

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The motive for the attack is as uncertain as the identity of those behind it. In the absence of a claim of responsibility, no one is sure whether the Frenchmen were targeted because they were Westerners, because they were French, or because of the military contract they...
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Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM
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