SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
in the last Shangrila
The peaceful Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan was rocked by a series of explosions between 11.10am and 2.10pm at four different locations, all in the South Western region of the country, including one in the capital Thimpu, on January 20, 2008. While no loss of life was reported, a woman sustained splinter injuries.
While the low-intensity explosions constitute no significant threat to the country’s security, they are disturbing, particularly in the context of a country that is currently making its transition from monarchy to parliamentary democracy – the first general elections, to choose 47 candidates for Bhutan’s National Assembly, the lower House of Parliament, will be held on March 24, 2008. Two parties — the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT, Bhutan Harmony Party) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — will contest the elections that will formally end absolute monarchy in the country.
The first blast occurred at 11:10am near the vegetable market in Samste. The second blast took place at 11:45am in Thimpu town. At 1:20pm, a third blast occurred near the gate of the Tala Guest House at Gedu in the Chukha District. At 2:10pm the fourth blast occurred at Dagapela in the Dagana District, where a second device, which failed to explode, was found in the same area. While there was no injury to any person or damage to property in the blasts in Samtse and Dagapela, one woman suffered splinter injuries in the blast at Gedu. The explosion in the Thimpu town shattered the window panes of buildings. In an e-mail declaration, the newly formed United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan (URFB) claimed responsibility for these blasts. The declaration, credited to URFB’s ‘commander-in-chief’ Karma, stated that the group was formed on April 12, 2007.
Meanwhile, the Royal Bhutanese Police (RBP) claimed that any one of the three Nepal-based organizations could have been responsible for the attacks: the Bhutan Tiger Force, the Bhutan Maoist Party and the Communist Party of Bhutan. Open source information, however, indicates that all these groups are, in fact, a single organisation – the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) [BCP (MLM)] of which Bhutan Tiger Force (BTF) is the armed wing.
These explosions have occurred after more than a year since the last blasts in the country. On December 2, 2006, four persons, including three Indian nationals, were injured in a bomb blast in Phuntsholing town. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Although the disruptive forces failed to carry out any violent action in 2007, there were a few attempts which were successfully foiled by the security forces:
August 10: RBP personnel prevented a blast by detecting an explosive device in a five-storey building opposite Kuenga Hotel in Phuntsholing.
May 28: An improvised explosive device was discovered below a culvert about four kilometres from Phuntsholing on the Phuntsholing-Thimpu highway.
April 23: A bomb, believed to have been planted by anti-monarchy rebels, was recovered and subsequently defused near a bridge in Phuntsholing, approximately 180 kilometres south of the capital Thimpu, and close to the Indian border. The BTF and the hitherto unknown Bhutan Revolutionary Youth claimed responsibility for planting the device. The RBP, however, blamed the BTF for planting the explosive device.
The BCP (MLM) was reportedly formed in the United Nations Refugee Camps in eastern Nepal and is largely comprised of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin. The BCP (MLM) brought out its first Press Release, signed by ‘Vikalpa’ as ‘general secretary’ through the Website of the Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist (CPN-Maoist) on April 22, 2003. After its formation in Nepal, the group has reportedly strengthened bases inside Bhutan. The group has youth, peasant and student wings that have begun distributing pamphlets and posters even in urban centres like Thimpu, Paro and Haa.
Banned by the Bhutanese Government, the BCP (MLM) has close ties with the CPN-Maoist. The major demands of the BCP (MLM) include the early repatriation of the refugees to Bhutan and the declaration of Bhutan as a ‘sovereign democracy’. The URFB has a similar set of demands.
On May 25, 2007, RBP personnel arrested 30 people, including three students, who had joined the BCP (MLM), in Samtse District. During the Court proceedings in the cases registered against these persons, it was observed that the accused had been in touch with cadres of the CPN-Maoist. The Police stated that the accused were engaged in seditious meetings, held in Katarey and Ugyentse, to recruit more people and collect donations to finance subversive activities. Their plans were to create awareness of the communist ideology and provide training in arms and explosives to start an armed rebellion against the Government, to disrupt the peace and stability and the democratisation process taking place in the country. The accused were also allegedly providing support to the Ngolops (Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin residing in Nepal) in their seditious activities against the State.
The unresolved issue of Ngolops remains a critical problem for Bhutan. Over 105,000 Bhutanese refugees reside in seven camps in the eastern Districts of Nepal since the ethnic exodus that followed the implementation of Bhutan’s Citizenship Act of 1985 and the subsequent nation-wide Census of 1988. The Bhutan Government has tended to resist all repatriation because most of the refugees are of Nepali origin, and this is seen as creating a 'demographic imbalance' in some areas of the thinly-populated country, as well as a threat to the Monarchy. While growing international pressure has forced Bhutan to accept the idea of repatriation of some refugees, non-Bhutanese and Bhutanese with criminal and subversive records will certainly be excluded, accounting for a sizeable and potentially volatile chunk of the refugee population. Bhutan also fears that the repatriated groups may be 'infected' by the Nepalese Maoists. The Bhutanese Home Secretary, Dasho Penden Wangchuk, stated on September 23, 2006, that the growing nexus between people in the camps in eastern Nepal, the Maoists and Indian Left Wing Extremists would have far-reaching impact on the region’s security. Wangchuk noted: "It is a confirmed fact that there is today a growing nexus between Maoists and the people in the camps in eastern Nepal … We also have information confirming radical elements from the camps in Nepal having received armed training from the Maoists."
Meanwhile, there are reports that almost half of the Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal have opted for a new life in the United States (US) and have applied for resettlement in the US, after the US Government’s decision to offer a new home and life to the refugees who were evicted from Bhutan because of their Nepali origin. The first batch of refugees was scheduled to arrive in the US in January 2008. Other countries like Canada, Australia and Denmark have also offered resettlement in their respective countries. 'It is our hope that in 2008 more than 13,000 refugees will be resettled from Nepal,' said the American Ambassador to Nepal, Nancy J. Powell, in a statement issued by the US Embassy in Kathmandu on January 16, 2008.
However, the BTF has opposed this ‘third country settlement’. On December 13, 2007, the BTF shot at and injured a refugee, identified as Subba, at Beldangi I camp near Sangam Chowk in Damak, Nepal. Two others, C. L. Thapa and D. B. Moktan, who were with Subba escaped the shooting. Later, claiming responsibility for the attack, the BCP (MLM) ‘chairman’ Surya declared: "The resettlement in America was a plan to obstruct the repatriation of the Bhutanese to their homeland and this action (shooting) was carried to foil the resettlement." He also warned that "Anyone supporting and advocating for the third country resettlement would face similar consequence (sic)." Earlier, on June 7, 2007, the BTF warned the refugees not to support third country settlement. The group reportedly pasted pamphlets and posters in the Jhapa and Morang camps in Nepal, which declared that resettling refugees in third countries was against the refugee's movement of respectful return to their country and was meant to ‘brush aside’ the existence of refugees. These acts seeking to disrupt third country settlement and whipping up sentiments underlines the BCP-MLM’s devisive agenda and their principal worry about the prospective loss of their cadres – since Ngolops provide the recruiting base for the radical group.
Amidst all this, Bhutan remains en route to democracy. Elections to the 47-member National Assembly (Lower House of Parliament), to effect the transition to parliamentary democracy from the existing monarchy, are scheduled to be held on March 24, 2008. Earlier, on December 31, 2007, the country voted for 15 of the 20-member Nation Council (Upper House of Parliament). Two new political parties formed in 2007 are in the fray. The DPT is believed to be the frontrunner but expects a strong challenge from the PDP. Both the parties draw their leaders from the bureaucracy and other professional groups. The country's first elected Prime Minister is expected to assume office a day after the elections, Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi disclosed. Under a Draft Constitution, the King will remain as head of State after the vote. However, the Parliament will have the power to impeach the 27-year-old monarch, Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck, by a two-thirds vote.
Bhutan has largely persisted as the only fortunate exception in an otherwise violence-torn South Asia. It remains to be seen whether the ‘land of the thunder dragon’ will continue to abide in peace after the transition to democracy and the incursions of the incipient Maoist movement into this ‘last Shangrila’.
On January 23, Bangladesh Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, minced no words in elaborating the achievements of the Interim Administration. While underlining the promise to hold the much-awaited Parliamentary elections in December 2008, Ahmed indicated that the tenure of his administration had been peaceful and comforting for each Bangladeshi. "Not a single bullet was fired, not a single bomb went off during this Government," he declared. The Chief Advisor, however, failed to mention his Government’s inability to dispel the pervasive sense of popular unease rooted in political uncertainty and poor economic condition that constantly threatens to undermine the sense of peace and tranquillity in this country of 150 millions.
Clearly, however, elements of the Islamist militancy that grew in the country under active political patronage under the preceding regimes, appeared to have been negotiated rather well by the Interim Government. Ahmed’s regime has successfully targeted the vast network of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and its affiliate, the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), a task that appeared to have been deliberately left unfinished by the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime. The execution of the top JMB-JMJB leadership on March 30, 2007, was the high point of the Government’s measures against Islamist radicalism. In the early hours on that day, the outfit’s chief Abdur Rahman and second-in-command, Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, Majlish-e-Shura (the highest decision-making body) members Abdul Awal, Khaled Saifullah and Ataur Rahman Sunny, and suicide squad member Iftekhar Hasan Al-Mamun, were hanged in different prisons. On March 4, 2007, President Iajuddin Ahmed had rejected the mercy petitions of the six leaders, who had been arrested in 2006. While the hurried execution, about two weeks before the anticipated days, did send a strong message to the surviving cadres and over-ground workers of the outfit, the Government’s step was also interpreted in informed circles as a move that failed to unravel the dynamics underlying the group’s dramatic rise. The Government had, in fact, barred the Press from talking to these militants and even the Court proceedings had been held in camera. As the leaders of the JMB walked to the gallows, the curtain fell on the forces that had catapulted a small gang of Islamists to a level where it had dared to coordinate and execute a simultaneous nation-wide series of bombings in 63 of the country’s 64 Districts, and to openly flaunt its nexus with al Qaeda.
Since the execution of the JMB leaders, over a hundred of JMB cadres, mostly lower-rung activists have been arrested from various parts of the country. The group’s backbone has been broken as a result of this neutralisation process. Intelligence reports did suggest a possible mutation of the JMB into gangs such as the Allahr Dal (Allah’s Group), Jamal-al-Jadid (New Glory) and the Jadid al Qaeda (The New Base). On May 1, three explosions at the main railway stations in Dhaka, the southern port of Chittagong and the northeastern city of Sylhet brought back memories of the country-wide explosions on August 17, 2005. However, as in the previous serial blasts, the explosives used remained low-grade and were visibly not intended to kill. The hitherto unknown outfit Jadid al Qaeda (JaQ) claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a lone person was injured. Between May and June 2007, this group went on to plant seven explosives at the Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET), all of which were recovered before their detonation. Subsequently, a few cadres of the JaQ, including Abul Hossain Tutul, who had allegedly planted the explosives at RUET were arrested. Activities of the new Islamist groups thereafter remained limited to issuing Press statements threatening to carry out attacks. None of these threats was, however, translated into action.
While international pressure and the shock of the August 2005 serial bombings had forced the erstwhile BNP regime to initiate action against the JMB-JMJB combine after the country-wide attacks, the Harkat-ul Jihad-i Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) remained outside the scope of official action. Except for the October 1, 2005, arrest of its ‘operations commander’ Mufti Abdul Hannan, none of HuJI-B’s functionaries were apprehended by the law-enforcement agencies. It is useful to recall that HuJI-B has been involved in a number of recent terrorist incidents in India, has deep linkages with terrorist organizations based in Pakistan, including al Qaeda, is believed to constitute a significant international terrorist threat, and figures in the US State Department’s list of ‘other terrorist groups’. Towards the end of 2007, however, the Interim Government appeared to have initiated some action against this group as well. On October 28 and 29, nine suspected HuJI-B militants were arrested from Narsingdi, Jhenidah, Magura, Khulna and Dhaka along with 60 kilograms of explosives, 16 grenades, rifles, handguns, various equipment and ammunition. Whether the arrest was a result of the Interim government’s attempt at pursuing the outfit or a mere accident, however, remained unclear, and it is notable that the regime is yet to act with a firmness comparable to that shown in the case of the JMB-JMJB, against the HUJI-B leadership.
Total fatalities as a result of Islamist militant violence over the period 2006-07 were at a low 20, with just seven of these civilian, and no losses to the Security Forces (SFs)Islamist Militancy related fatalities: 2006-07
Left-wing Insurgency related fatalities: 2006-07
Going by fatalities alone, one would be led to believe that there is a raging Left Wing insurgency across Bangladesh. The truth is, Left-wing insurgency in Bangladesh is a highly dispersed, low-scale and criminalised movement consisting of a multiplicity of minor groups. Nevertheless, this feeble and degenerate movement continued to be the principal focus of SF ‘counter-terrorist’ responses, especially of operations by the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a specialised ‘anti-crime’ para-military force under the Home Ministry. Over the past years, RAB personnel had attained a measure of notoriety by arresting and then eliminating a number of alleged Left Wing Extremists (LWE) in fake encounters, and this trend continued uninterrupted through 2007, albeit at a somewhat diminished scale. Thus as compared to 139 LWE fatalities in 2006, the year 2007 registered 72 LWE deaths. Strong action by the SFs left the movement, already weakened by continuous infighting, in complete disarray. Even though media reports, quoting unnamed intelligence officials, continued to indicate some level of mobilisation by LWE groups, especially in the western and central Districts, their activities through out the year did not go beyond random acts of thuggery and extortion. The surrender of 104 cadres of the Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) at the remote Deshigram village in Tarash Sub-district of Sirajganj District on December 1, 2007, constituted a serious setback to the most dominant of the Left Wing extremist factions in the country.
The Interim Government, however, continued to pay scant regard to India’s concerns on the activities of insurgent groups operating in India’s northeastern States. Since the early 1990s, top leadership and cadres of a number of Indian terrorist and insurgent groups, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), and the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), have bases in Bangladesh. According to the Indian Border Security Force’s (BSF) January 2008 estimates, 141 camps of terrorist and insurgent groups operating in India’s Northeast were in existence in Bangladesh. Successive political regimes in Dhaka, however, have continued to summarily dismiss such claims. There were initial hopes – however faint – that the Interim Government would change the long-standing Bangladeshi policy on providing support and safe haven to Indian insurgents, but the new regime has continued with the policy of denial.
Throughout 2007, political developments in Bangladesh received more attention than measures against militancy. The declaration of Emergency on January 11, 2007, created a larger role and longer tenure for the Interim Government. Under normal circumstances, the responsibility of the Interim Government is restricted to preparing ground work for the parliamentary elections, and its tenure limited to 90 days. However, sharp political polarisation between the BNP and the Awami League (AL) had created a logjam and the continuation of the Interim Government (comprising a Chief Advisor and 11 Advisors), emerged as the ‘only option’. Since then, with the active backing of the Army, the Interim Government has firmly entrenched itself in power and in every segment of administration. Despite the Interim Government’s repeated assurances about holding a free and fair parliamentary poll by the end of December 2008, many suspect that Bangladesh’s tryst with the present non-party military backed administration is likely to be a prolonged one.
The grand strategy of the Interim Administration is being articulated through steps purportedly undertaken against pervasive corruption in the country, the implementation of extensive reforms in the organisation of political parties and assistance to the Election Commission (EC) in its tasks of preparing the voters’ list and chalking out the roadmap for the parliamentary elections. It is evident, however, that in the manner of accomplishing each of these objectives, the Government has secured vastly augmented powers, and is seeking to impose a radical transformation in the country’s politics.
The manipulative use of the Special Powers Act (SPA), 1974, by the Interim Administration, to detain politicians, businessmen and journalists has evoked harsh criticism. According to the Cabinet Committee on Law and Order, between January 11, 2007, and the first week of January 2008, a total of 440,684 people had been arrested on various grounds by the law-enforcement agencies. This included close to 200 politicians and businessmen who are under prosecution for involvement in corruption. Among them are the country’s foremost leaders and members of their families, including former Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina, on charges of extorting Bangladesh Taka (BDT) 29.6 million from a private company, and Khaleda Zia, for tax evasion. Other prominent individuals who have been prosecuted include former Minister of State Lutfozzaman Babar; Khaleda Zia’s son and BNP General Secretary Tarique Rahman; former BNP minister Brigadier General (Retired) Hannan Shah; former BNP State Minister for Civil Aviation, Mir Mohammad Nasiruddin; AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil; former BNP Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury; former-AL Parliamentarian Fazlur Rahman Patal; former-BNP Parliamentarian Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim; Partex Group Chairman M.A. Hashem; and former Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Abdul Awal Mintoo.
Similarly, under the programme for carrying out reforms within the political parties, immense encouragement has been provided by the Interim Administration to potential dissident groups within leading parties. Such steps appeared to have been based on the presumption that, given the autocratic ways both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia had run their parties, their ‘in prison’-status would provide a fillip to the potential dissidents within the parties to take over the reins, thereby heralding a new age in Bangladeshi politics. However, such reform processes stagnated after initial signs of success in which the dissidents threatened to banish both the women leaders to the pages of history. Both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have influential coteries within their parties, and these have been successful in resisting such moves. The Government, on the other hand, is yet to lift the restrictions on political activity in the country and has not started a process of dialogue with the political parties regarding the impending polls. Differences of opinion among the Advisors in the Interim Administration over allowing political activity by lifting Emergency provisions led to the resignation of five Advisors within a space of two weeks in December 2007 and January 2008.
Indications emerging in March 2007 suggested that the ‘comprehensive electoral reforms’, including the preparation of the new voters’ list and identity cards for all above 18 years of age, would only commence in July 2007. According to sources in the Election Commission, the massive exercise involving about 85 million voters would require at least a year to be completed. Voter registration, in fact, started only in November and till mid-January about 26 million voters had been issued photo identity cards. Rectifying the last voters list, which included over 10 million fake and duplicate voters, is an enormous task and is unlikely to be completed within the scheduled timeframe. In fact, the Government’s earlier decision to hold elections to all local government bodies before the parliamentary polls has already been shelved. The current plan of holding city corporation elections ‘before the parliamentary polls’ is also likely to meet the same fate.
While the Interim Government’s anti-militancy, anti-corruption and political reforms measures have secured some popular support, its performance on the economic front has been far less satisfactory. Since the declaration of the Emergency, annual inflation of the consumers’ index has climbed steadily and by November 2007 (the latest available figures) had reached a 17-year high of 11.21 percent. Acute shortages of supply of food grains have contributed to soaring food prices and the Government has been able to do little to address the crisis. The World Bank’s 'Global Economic Prospects 2008' report has projected Bangladesh's economic growth at 5.5 per cent for the current fiscal year due to what it describes as 'political tensions, severe flooding and cyclone'. The estimate is lower than the Bangladesh Bank’s projection of economic growth at 6 to 6.2 per cent.
Time appears to have stood frozen in Bangladesh through 2007, a remarkable change from the previous turbulent years. But each passing day brings harsh reminders of life under a military administration, with restrictions mounting on several fronts. The people have been told that the current phase of ‘discipline’ is necessary to restore the integrity of democratic processes, and the people have endured the authoritarian ways of the Interim Government in the hope that a more unsullied democracy will shortly be restored. It can only be hoped that the future rewards their patience and their acquiescence.
Note: April 30, 2007, was mentioned as the date of execution of the top JMB-JMJB leadership. The mistake is rectified on June 17, 2013.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 21-27, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Bastar is the new Maoist epicentre, says Chhattisgarh Police chief: Bastar in Chhattisgarh is reportedly emerging as the new training ground for CPI-Maoist cadres from across the country. The People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) is running four camps in the forests of the region where cadres from several States are being given "on the job" training in carrying out attacks and planting explosives. Intelligence reports and documents seized by the Chhattisgarh Police indicate that Bastar is the new epicentre for Maoist extremism and officials suspect that 1,500-2,000 cadres are present in these camps at any given time. Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwaranjan stated that, while three of the camps were located in the jungles of Bijapur and Dantewara Districts, one camp is believed to be located in the Abujhmarh Forest. "According to intelligence inputs received by us, apart from locally recruited cadres, Maoist extremists from other states, including Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, are also being given training," he said. Apart from 8,000-10,000 armed PLGA and Jan (people’s) militia in the region, there are also 25,000-35,000 Maoist sympathisers or Sangham members. According to the Police Chief, Bastar was ideal for such camps as the cadres could be given "on the job" training through real attacks on security forces, planting of explosives, and blowing up of Government buildings and infrastructure. Guerrilla warfare tactics are also reportedly being taught. Indian Express, January 28, 2008.
Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami ‘commander-in-chief’ for operations in India killed in Jammu and Kashmir: Bashir Ahmed Mir, the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami’s (HuJI) ‘commander-in-chief’ for operations across India was shot dead by Police in the Doda District on January 25, 2008. Operating under the code-name "Hijazi," Pakistan-trained Mir is believed to have ordered a series of terrorist attacks across north and south-east India in 2007, including the Court Complex bombings in Uttar Pradesh, the bombing of the Ajmer Sharif shrine in Rajasthan, and the multiple bombings which occurred in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh. A resident of Chatroo village in the Kishtwar Administrative Division, Mir joined the Harkat-ul-Ansar, which later transformed itself into the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), in 1992. He trained in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) from 1994 to 1995, and was then assigned the charge of instructing new recruits at a HuJI-run camp near Mansehra. He is believed to have returned to Jammu and Kashmir in 1999, and served with a HuJI unit operating out of the Pir Panjal Mountains in the Doda-Anantnag mountain belt. He was arrested from the village of Kapran in 2000, and served two years under the Public Safety Act until his detention was revoked just before the 2002 Legislative Assembly elections. After his release he went underground. In 2004, he was appointed ‘commander-in-chief’ of the HuJI in India. The Hindu, January 26, 2008.
Five HuJI militants sentenced to life imprisonment in Uttar Pradesh: On January 23, 2008, a fast track Court in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, sentenced five militants of the Harkat-ul Jihad Islami (HuJI) to life terms for waging war against the State, sedition, conspiracy and other charges. The convicts, Mehboob Ali, Sayeed Shoaib, Mohammad Rizwan, Farhan and Mohammad Saad, were arrested by the Special Task Force from Lucknow on April 5, 2006, along with Waliullah, the prime accused in the Varanasi twin blasts which occurred in the Sankat Mochan Temple and near the Railway Station in March 2006. The Court also awarded them 32 years of additional imprisonment under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, besides imposing a fine of INR 40,000 each. All punishments will run concurrently. At the time of their arrests, Police had seized an AK-47 rifle, a large number of hand grenades, detonators, six kilograms of RDX, three kilograms of PETN explosives and a loaded pistol. PTI, January 24, 2008.
78 militants and seven soldiers killed in clashes in Darra Adam Khel: At least 78 militants and seven soldiers have died so far in clashes that began on January 25, 2008, between the two sides in Darra Adam Khel, a town in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (NWFP), located between Peshawar and Kohat. Helicopter Gun-ships are reportedly being used to target militant bunkers in the formerly stable region. The military launched the operation after the collapse of talks between the Government and local Taliban for the release of five soldiers and four truckloads of ammunition and food. Tribal elders quoted Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Maulana Omar as saying that the trucks had been shifted to a safe place and that the ammunition was enough to fight against the security forces for two years.
Security forces took positions on hilltops around Darra Adam Khel and the Friendship Tunnel on January 27. The military said security forces had cleared the area and regained control of the Kohat tunnel and adjoining areas after fierce fighting. The tunnel connects the southern parts of the NWFP with capital Peshawar along the Indus Highway. On the morning of January 27, the troops used four helicopter gun-ships and heavy machine-guns to pound the hideouts of militants who had taken control of the tunnel on the morning of January 25 and occupied the Kohat Hills on January 26. Dawn, January 28, 2008 ; Daily Times, January 26-27, 2008.
Pakistan-based al Qaeda militants ordered suicide attacks in Spain: The group of alleged Islamist extremists arrested in Barcelona over January 19-20, were planning suicide attacks on Spanish soil, allegedly under orders from al Qaeda in Pakistan. Citing sources close to the investigation, the daily El Periodico de Catalunya said "the terrorist action averted on Saturday ... was decided several months ago by the central al Qaeda network in Pakistan… Those who gave the order are to be found in Pakistan. They were preparing suicide attacks. Those that came here were ready to commit suicide." The 12 Pakistanis arrested had made recent trips to Pakistan and received an order to carry out an attack in Barcelona from figures high up within al Qaeda hierarchy during a meeting at a training camp in Waziristan. Announcing the arrests on January 19, Spain’s Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba declared that an imminent attack by "highly organised radical Islamists" had been foiled. "Here we are looking at a well-organised group who were going beyond ideological radicalism to acquiring materials to make explosives and therefore eventually to carry out violent attacks," he said. Daily Times, January 22, 2008.
‘Colonel’ Karuna sentenced to nine-month imprisonment in Britain: Renegade LTTE leader Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias 'Colonel' Karuna was sentenced to nine-month imprisonment by a UK Court for identity fraud. He was arrested in London on November 2, 2007, for carrying an apparently genuine Sri Lankan diplomatic passport issued under a false name. Karuna told the Isleworth Crown Court in West London on January 25, 2008, that he had received the false diplomatic passport from the Sri Lankan Government. He said Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, who is also the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, had arranged the documents for him. Karuna, who founded the Tamil Makkal Vidhuthalai Pullikal (TMVP), was sentenced to nine months in jail under the Identity Cards Act after he pleaded guilty. The Hindu , January 26, 2008.
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