Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan, Terrorist Group of Pakistan
Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP) literally meaning ĎArmy of Muhammadí refers to a Shia group which is involved in sectarian terrorist activity primarily in Pakistani Punjab. The SMP is one of the two sectarian terrorist outfits proscribed on August 14, 2001, by President Pervez Musharraf.
The exact date of formation of the SMP is not certain. But it is generally believed that Maulana Mureed Abbas Yazdani created the outfit in 1993 after he was convinced that the predominant Shia organisation, Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP) would not allow its young cadre to physically counter the Sunni militancy of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The Shia youth had been urging the TJP leadership to take notice of the alleged excesses of the SSP whose members were alleged to be targeting Shia's and their beliefs.
The primary objective of the SMP is the protection of the Shiite community from Sunni fundamentalist and terrorist outfits. Its main rival is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). SMP chief Ghulam Raza Naqvi is also reported to have visualised the creation of a Quds force comprising both Shias and Sunnis to Ďliberateí Jerusalem.
Leadership and Structure
Ghulam Raza Naqvi is the Saalar-i-Aala (chief) of SMP. A dreaded hitman, when arrested in 1996, the government had placed a reward of Rs 2 million for his alleged involvement in about 30 cases of murder and dacoity. He is now in prison. He is known for turning Thokar Niaz Beg, a village in the suburbs of Lahore, a no-go area for the police who failed in at least four attempts to break this Shia stronghold. Thokar Niaz Beg also serves as the SMP headquarters. Munawwar Abbas Alvi is a front ranking SMP leader who is also in prison.
The SMP is estimated to have a cadre base of 30000 Shia followers. This mainly comprises former members of the Tehreek Nafaz Fiqh-e-Jafariya (TNFJ) and TJP. The SMP has a strong following in the Punjab province.
There are apparently no terrorist training facilities for the SMP cadres outside Pakistan and neither are its cadres been allowed to operate from outside Pakistan.
The outfit reportedly maintains close links with the Shia regime in Iran.
The SMP is involved in a number of massacres, targeted killings and dacoities. However, the phase following the October 1999 military coup in Pakistan saw a decline in sectarian violence. In February 2001, at a meeting of the Milli Yekjehti Council (MYC*), the SMP and the SSP announced their willingness to shun all differences and to withdraw cases against each other. Meanwhile, several Shia organisations have been petitioning the government for the release of SMP chief Ghulam Raza Naqvi, though the government is yet to respond. The TJP President Allama Syed Sajid Naqvi commenting in the context of the August 14, 2001 order proscribing SMP and Sunni terrorist outfit LeJ, said that there should be uniform policy vis-à-vis the release of cadres. He opined that as the SSP Chief Azam Tariq has been released despite his alleged involvement in many sectarian related crimes, the Federal government should release the SMP chief also.
The SMP, in February 2001, was reported to have sought membership in the Grand Democratic Alliance, formed to launch a movement for restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Even as these apparent gestures towards peace are made, the SMP was suspected to be involved in the attack on an SSP controlled mosque in which nine worshippers were killed and 12 others injured on March 12, 2001.
The SMPís connection with the Shia regime in Iran led to the assassination of Iranís Counsel General in Lahore, Sadeq Ganji, in December 1990 by suspected Sunni terrorists. The assassination was apparently a reprisal for the murder in February that year of SSP founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Similarly, soon after a bomb explosion at a Lahore court in January 1997 in which the then SSP chief, Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi was killed along with 29 others, an Iranian diplomat Muhammad Ali Rahimi was killed in Multan in the same month. The Iranian Cultural Centre in Lahore too was attacked and burnt down in that month. Besides, five personnel of the Iranian armed forces who were in Pakistan for training were murdered in September 1997. An SSP activist Sheikh Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, was convicted and hanged on March 1, 2001 for the Iranian diplomat, Sadeq Ganjiís assassination.
In 1996, a faction of the SMP cadres opposed their chief Maulana Yazdani for his conciliatory attitude towards the MYC, which to them amounted to a compromise on their faith and fundamental beliefs. The present Saalar-i-Aala ('commander') of the SMP Ghulam Raza Naqvi reportedly ordered the assassination of Maulana Yazdani, which was executed in September 1996. Another faction was formed under the leadership of Major (Retd.) Ashraf Ali Shah in 1996 and confronted Ghulam Naqviís group which led to internecine clashes.
Ghulam Naqvi, had, in 1996, ensured that the outfit had its headquarters, Thokar Niaz Beg, a village in Lahore, completely under their control and impossible for security agencies to penetrate. Following the factional clashes, the SMP commander was forced to flee and was later arrested by police in December 1996. The year also saw the broadening target base of sectarian terrorists with several bureaucrats being attacked and killed including the Commissioner of Sargodha and the Deputy Commissioner of Khanewal.
SMP for all practical purposes stopped operating in 1996 after Ghulam Raza's arrest. Its cadres now reportedly operate on their own. Lack of financial resources and training are also key factors in the SMPís relative oblivion. Though pro-violence Shia activists supported the Sipah-e-Muhammad, it could not get any organisational support from the TJP, which restricted itself to providing legal aid to arrested SMP cadres.
Law-enforcing agencies launched a massive crackdown on the outfit on August 15, 2001. But they could not ascertain the hideouts of the top leadership of the SMP. Approximately 200 leaders and activists of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) were arrested in a crackdown launched by the police on August 15. Punjab Police, on August 16, registered cases under the amended Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) against the arrested activists of SMP. Arrests were also reported from various parts of Faisalabad, Jhang and Toba Tek Singh districts.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), through a circular issued on August 23, 2001 ordered all banks and financial institutions to freeze the accounts of SMP with immediate effect. However, since the outfit was operating underground, official sources indicated that they might not be operating their bank accounts under the outfitís name. Pakistani news reports have indicated that the SBP is yet to locate details of bank accounts of proscribed sectarian outfits, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP). News sources observed that SBP has confirmed reports that the banned outfits were not maintaining accounts with any of the banks or financial institutions anywhere in the country.
* The Milli Yekjehti Council (MYC) was formed in March 1995 by 11 religious/sectarian outfits to foster sectarian harmony, point out causes of any misunderstanding between sects and resolve any conflicts which result from these differences. The Council agreed in May 1995 on a 17-point code of conduct. As a result, the situation vis-a-vis sectarian violence significantly improved in 1995 and 1996. However, the extremists in both the Shia and Sunni camps blamed their leaders for compromising on their respective basic beliefs and principles and, therefore, were not happy. After a lot of grumbling, they lost patience by the middle of 1996 and started another extremely violent phase of violence. Ever since, though the MYC has been around and periodically asserts that it has successfully deflated tensions between extremist outfits, violence continues.