By Saad Sayeed and Syed Raza Hassan
SHIKARPUR, Pakistan – The confession of a Pakistani teenager who was captured moments before carrying out a suicide attack has given police a rare glimpse into a militant network they say is behind the recent surge in sectarian violence.
Usman’s testimony, a copy of which has been seen by Reuters, describes a web of radical seminaries and training and bomb making facilities stretching from eastern Afghanistan, where the young man was recruited, to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province.
Hundreds of people have been killed in attacks on Pakistan’s small Shi’ite community, heightening fears in the Sunni-dominated country of an escalation in sectarian bloodshed that has been a persistent threat for decades.
Pakistani police believe the network, which Usman says aided him on his 2,000 km journey, has also helped Islamic State spread its extremist agenda in South Asia, even without proven operational links with its core in the Middle East.
The Pakistani network brings together several known jihadists belonging to extremist groups that have targeted religious minorities for decades, police said, providing fertile ground for Islamic State’s ideology to spread.
Usman’s confession does not name Islamic State directly, but police say they believe the network that recruited and trained him was behind five deadly sectarian bombings in Pakistan, four of which have been claimed by the group based in Syria and Iraq.
“ISIS (Islamic State) has no formal structure (in Pakistan). It works on a franchise system and that is the model that is being used in Pakistan,” senior Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) officer Raja Umer Khattab told Reuters.
By that he said he meant Islamic State could claim attacks as its own, even if it had no direct role in coordinating them.
Usman, 18 at the time of the thwarted attack, is currently on death row in the town of Shikarpur, where he was caught.
Reuters was unable to contact him for this story, but Usman’s court-appointed lawyer said the family had shown no interest in the case.
“I am not sure if an appeal has been filed against the sentence, since no one from his family ever turned up to even meet Usman,” advocate Deedar Brohi told Reuters, adding that his client had been sentenced by an anti-terrorism court in March.
Police say the network emerged relatively recently – the main suspects became known to police over the last two years – but it is not clear whether it is acting alone or on the orders of other groups…