SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has weathered a very serious threat to democracy and modernity in Bangladesh, to her Government, and to her own life, posed by the 33-hour mutiny staged by personnel of her country’s para-military border force, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), on February 25-26, 2009. The threat to her life became clear shortly after the mutiny began when some of the mutineers told reporters inside the BDR headquarters that they would call a ceasefire only after talks with her and the Home Minister, Sahara Khatun. Saying that they would not talk to anybody else, they said, "We will allow the PM and cabinet members in [into Pilkhana, BDR’s headquarters in Dhaka which was venue of the mutiny]. We will tell them our demands. You ask them to come right now. We will call ceasefire once they are in." This was a trap laid in the hope that Sheikh Hasina, who has inherited both her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s courage and proneness to emotional surges, would fall for it. Fortunately she did not.
Nor was there any doubt from the very beginning that the mutiny was not a spontaneous explosion of fury, but the result of a carefully-planned conspiracy. Bangladesh’s The Daily Star noted, on March 6, 2009, that those investigating the mutiny said that telephone records of some of the suspects indicated that it was planned at least two months ago. The report quoted a senior official of a law enforcement agency, who requested anonymity, as saying "Most likely the networking among them [mutineers] began much before that. Further investigation will shed light on that." Sheikh Hasina herself left no one in any doubt when, addressing a seminar in Dhaka on March 3, she disclosed that conspiracies were still being hatched, and designs harboured, against Bangladesh’s democracy, independence and sovereignty. Agents of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose help the Bangladesh Government had sought (along with Scotland Yard’s) to unravel the secrets of the mutiny, were also reported to have confirmed that the mutiny was a result of a conspiracy.
Those who actually staged the mutiny and brutally killed 73 persons, including 56 Army officers seconded to the BDR, were no doubt jawans (troopers) of the Force. It would, however, be naïve to believe that they were acting on their own to have their grievances met. Were that the case, they would have bargained with the Government, holding the army officers as hostages.
The fact that the mutineers killed so many officers so brutally, suggests that the aim was to provoke the Army to retaliate in kind, potentially leading to countrywide clashes with the BDR. The Army has a strength of 250,000, while the BDR has 67,000 personnel. In such a scenario, the demand for the imposition of martial law, facilitating the ouster of the Awami League Government which has behind it the massive popular mandate it received in the elections held on December 29, 2008, would have been likely. The argument would be that a democratic Government which could not prevent Bangladesh from being plunged into such a crisis, could not be trusted with the responsibility of being at the helm at such a critical time. And this would have been accepted by a country in the midst of a terrible civil war.
Had the plan to murder Sheikh Hasina succeeded, moreover, there would not only have been general acceptance of a military takeover but the absence of the only leader who could have opposed it. As she survived, one could see an attempt to turn the Army, charged with emotion following the brutal killings, on her. That a large section of at least the officers corps was deeply angered was clear from the sharp exchanges that occurred between her and nearly 800 officers of all ranks, whom she met in Dhaka on March 1.
The actual details of the plans will perhaps be revealed by the investigations that are under way. Two things, however, saved the day for Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh. The first is that she quickly realized that she had been duped into offering a general amnesty by representatives of the mutineers, who had not told her about the mass killings of Army officers, and made it clear that the amnesty did not apply to murderers, looters and others guilty of heinous crimes. She followed this up by the meeting with the officers where she demonstrated exceptional strength and control. The second thing was the leadership of the Army, which acted with restraint and stood by the democratically elected Government.
While all this is gratifying, it does not mean that those who tried to destabilize Sheikh Hasina and Bangaldesh’s democracy would not make another attempt. It is necessary to identify these elements and the process must begin by looking at people who have the most to lose from the continuance of the present dispensation in Dhaka.
The list is headed by those who have been identified as war criminals. Bangladesh’s Law Minister, Shafeque Ahmed, has described them as "those who acted as auxiliary forces of Pakistani occupation forces and committed crimes against humanity" including killings, looting, rape, arson and forcing people to leave the country.
The Jamaat-e-Islami was the most important of the fundamentalist Islamist organizations that had collaborated with the Pakistanis during the Liberation War of 1971. On November 5, 2008, the Sector Commanders’ Forum, representing sector commanders of the liberation forces during the Liberation war, had made public its preliminary list of 50 war criminals, which included the names of the Ameer (Chief) and Secretary General of this fundamentalist organisation, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, respectively.
Bringing war criminals to justice was one of the more important promises made by the Awami League in its manifesto for the parliamentary election held on December 29, 2008. In her first Press Conference after her landslide victory, Sheikh Hasina made it clear that the promise would be acted upon. On Januray 29, 2009, Bangladesh’s Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament), passed a unanimous resolution calling upon the Government to ensure immediate trial of war criminals. Participating in the discussion on the motion, Sheikh Hasina had said, "The war criminals must be brought to justice, no matter what." On January 30, 2009, Bangladesh’s Home Minister, Sahara Khatun, announced that her Ministry has asked the authorities concerned to guard all exit points so that no war criminal could flee the country, adding that "all relevant information about war criminals has been sent to the respective places."
The Jamaat, which was severely mauled in the elections, has been showing signs of serious anxiety. A two-day meeting of its highest policy-making body, the Majlish-e-Shura, was held in Dhaka on January 29 and 30, to discuss a strategy to face the situation. Among the measures considered was the rendering of an apology for the party’s political stance in 1971, while denying participation in atrocities, and the replacement of leaders who might be proclaimed guilty in a ‘transparent UN-supervised trial’. The Jamaat’s desperation has been heightened by the fact that, with the exception of the Islami Oikya Jot (Islamist Unity Group), neither of the two other parties of the four-party alliance, which ruled Bangladesh form 2001 to 2006 and fought the last elections together, is prepared to stand by it on the war criminals’ issue. Supporting a transparent trial, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the alliance’s main constituent, and the Jatiya Party, made it plain that the Jamaat has to face the music on its own.
There is another matter which must be troubling the Jamaat considerably — the Government’s decision to scrutinize the activities of NGOs which received approval during the rule of the four-party Government in which the Jamaat’s Secretary General, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid was the State Minister for Social Welfare. A total of 473 local and 25 foreign NGOs were approved during this period, against a total of 2,367 local and foreign NGOs approved since 1990. According to Bangladesh’s Finance Minister, A.M.A. Muhith, the objective is to find out whether these have any links with terror fundings. From this there is only a short step to scrutinizing the gigantic business and industrial empire the Jamaat controls and which has kept it always flush with funds.
In such a situation, the Jamaat can weather the crisis and retain its leadership only if the Awami League Government is removed. Since the latter’s massive majority in Bangladesh’s Parliament makes a constitutional ouster impossible, the only way out is a violent overthrow. It is important to remember that some of the leaders of the mutineers are said to have been members of the banned Islamist terrorist outfit, the Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh (JMB). Moreover, terrorist outfits like the JMB, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HUJI-BD) are furious with the Army and the Rapid Action Battalions which have spearheaded Governmental action against them. Significantly, the mutineers at Pilkhana were reportedly looking especially for Colonel Gulzar Uddin Ahmed, one of the outstanding officers of the Bangladesh Army, who had spearheaded the campaign against these organizations and played a key role in the arrest of Bangla Bhai, the Operations Commander of JMJB and Shaekh Abdur Rahman, chief of JMB, both of whom have been hanged. Colonel Ahmed was killed most savagely.
The Jamaat has been the fountainhead of fundamentalist Islamist ideology in Bangladesh and, along with its students’ front organization, Islami Chhatra Shibir (Islamist Students’ Camp), the nursery of their leaders. Both Bangla Bhai and Shaekh Abdur Rahman had Jamaat backgrounds. During the rule of the four-party coalition, the Jamaat had done everything possible to stall action against these organizations, which had unleashed a reign of terror in Bangladesh. In fact, Jamaat leaders, such as Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, had, until his arrest, even denied the existence of Bangla Bhai, dismissing him as a phantom created by the media.
The Jamaat is clearly a serious source of threat for Sheikh Hasina: the other is Pakistan, acting through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. To all purposes, the Jamaat is Islamabad’s political striking arm in Bangladesh. Those identified as war criminals were its agents in 1971, as they are now. It is not surprising that Zia Ispahani, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s Special Envoy to Bangaldesh, declared in Dhaka, on February 16, 2009, that this was "not the right time" to initiate the trial of war criminals, as there were a number of issues on which Bangladesh and Pakistan could cooperate.
Pakistan has particular reason to be unhappy. It has been using Bangladesh, with its porous border with India, as a launching pad for cross-border terrorist strikes against the latter. Sheikh Hasina has made it clear from the very beginning of her second term as Prime Minister that she would not allow this to continue. Visiting Pilkhana on February 24, 2009, the day before the mutiny, in connection with the observance of BDR Week – 2009, she had stated in her address to assembled personnel of the para-military force that Bangladesh would not allow the use of its territory as a springboard for terrorist activity, and believed in maintaining good relations with all its neighbours.
That the mutiny began the next day was, perhaps, pure coincidence. The fact remains, however, that Sheikh Hasina will have to tread carefully. She has several battles in hand. The manner in which the case pertaining to the massive arms seizure in Chittagong on April 2, 2004, is proceeding, tends to bear out the long-standing suspicion that some tall poppies of the BNP were involved, as had been functionaries of Bangladesh’s National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Pakistan’s ISI. The tallest among these tall poppies, with close links to the ISI as well as the Islamist terrorist organizations, is suspected to have had a hand in the mutiny.
Sheikh Hasina’s problems have been aggravated by the fact that she can hardly rely on two of Bangladesh’s five intelligence agencies — the Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the NSI. Both have very close links with the ISI. In fact, the glaring intelligence failure, which enabled the mutiny, raises many questions. In a signed editorial in The Daily Star of March 12, 2009, Brigadier General Shahedul Anam Khan, the paper’s Defence and Strategic Affairs Editor, wondered "whether or not it was a case of failure of intelligence or a failure to recognize the intelligence indicators, or a case of willfully overlooking the indicators." If the last of these is the case, it would imply complicity with the mutiny. Sheikh Hasina has, of course, replaced the leaders of both agencies. But both organizations require root-and-branch reform. That will take time.
What needs to be done without delay, however, is to proceed with the trials of war criminals and to ask the Army and the Police to arrest the BDR mutineers who have fled with huge quantities of arms and ammunition. They pose a threat to her and to as Bangladesh as well.
The operational spaces for Islamist militancy in States across India have, for some time, demonstrated indications of brisk expansion, even as terrorist violence declines in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The corpus of recent evidence gathered by the Special Investigation Team of the Kerala Police probing the terror link between the Kashmir jihad and Kerala is an indication that Pakistan-backed Islamist groups operating in J&K have a far wider subversive agenda, and have, consequently, created an elaborate network of terrorist cells in a number of other States in the country.
Interrogation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants, Fiyaz Ahammed of Pulwama District, Sajad Ahammed Reshi alias Hanzulla, a resident of Shopian in south Kashmir, and Shabbir Ahammed Tali alias Abu Saquib of Shopian, has reportedly indicated that 185 persons from Kerala were selected by the LeT and provided preliminary training at camps organized at various centres in the Kannur and Ernakulam Districts of Kerala.
The fact that some youth from Kerala had, indeed, become foot-soldiers of the Pakistani jihad in Kashmir was first discovered in October 2008. On October 7, two militants, identified as Abdur Rahim and T. Fayaz, hailing from the Kannur and Malappuram Districts in Kerala, were killed during an encounter with the Security Forces in the Lolab area of Kupwara District in J&K. Again, on October 10, three militants, including two from Kerala and a Pakistani national, were killed in another encounter in the same District. The duo from Kerala was identified as Muhammad Yasin alias Varghese Joseph and Fayiz, hailing from the Ernakulam and Kannur, respectively.
While the four slain militants from Kerala, along with Abdul Jabbar (also from Kerala), who had escaped from one of the encounter sites, were the first component of the module, another 180 youngsters were waiting in Kerala after the preliminary training to join the jihad, according to Shabbir Tali’s confessional statement. The three Kashmiri militants took part in a camp organised by LeT in the Kupwara and Dorusa forest areas of J&K during October 2008, along with the five-member group from Kerala. The LeT camp reportedly had 17 members, including seven Pakistanis and three Kashmiris. Fiaz Ahammed revealed, "The Malayalis (Keralites) joined the camp in the second week of September. Shakeer alias Rahim was their leader. He could speak Urdu." According to Sajad Reshi, the five militants from Kerala who attended the training camp wanted to go to Pakistan and get advanced training in weaponry. "Their plan was to go back to Kerala after being trained in Pakistan and engage in terrorist and anti-national activities," he deposed before the Police.
On January 21, 2009, the Kerala Police submitted the chargesheet in the case regarding the module recruiting youth for terrorist activities. It named 22 persons as accused, including the four militants killed in J&K. While 13 of the accused have been arrested, five persons, identified as Naseer, Shafas, Ibrahim Moulavi, Sabir alias Ayub and Umar Farooque, are still at large. K.P. Abdul Jaleel of Kadachira in Kannur District, who was the first to be arrested on October 19, 2008, in connection with this module, has been granted bail. This module is also said to be linked to the July 25, 2008, serial blasts in Bangalore, in which a woman was killed and eight persons were injured. The Bangalore Police announced on February 7, 2009, they had arrested nine men from a radical group in Kerala in connection with the July 2008 blasts. Most of those arrested had been named in the January 21, 2009, chargesheet filed by the Kerala Police. The Bangalore Police also said that the four militants from Kerala killed in J&K were part of the conspiracy. Investigations revealed that the militants had formed a unit, the Shahbuddin Ghori Brigade, to orchestrate terrorist activities in south India.
According to the chargesheet filed by the Kerala Police, 57-year old Sainuddin of Kondotty in Malappuram, who was arrested from Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh capital, on January 20, 2009, had organised activities for recruiting youth with the intention of sending them for arms training with the LeT in J&K and Pakistan to wage war against India. He had organised the youth under the guise of the activities of ‘tariqat’ (a Sufi school) meetings at Neerchal in Kasargod District, Kanhangad, Malappuram, Kaniyapuram and the Sufi shrine of Jamiya Nooriya in Hyderabad. The accused had been engaged in a conspiracy since March 2006, to carry out subversive activities, the chargesheet stated. Further, the Bangalore Police disclosed, Sainuddin alias Abdul Sattar was the brain behind the microchip-based timer devices used in several blasts across India. In fact, "several arrested Indian Mujahideen members have given information about the Ghori Brigade, a hitherto unknown south Indian module radicalised by perceived injustice to Muslims in India after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots."
The Kerala Chief Minister, V. S. Achuthanandan, said on March 18, 2009, he would look into reports alleging that People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Abdul Nasser Madhani had links with extremist outfits. According to reports, a statement by one Mani alias Yousuf to the Police team probing the alleged links of Kerala youth with Kashmir militants had thrown some light into Madhani's alleged extremist connections. Yousuf reportedly met Madhani in Coimbatore Central Jail, when the latter was an under-trial in the Coimbatore bomb blasts case. Later, on his release from prison, Yousuf used to visit a purdah shop run by Madhani's wife at Kochi in Kerala, a contact point for people with extremist links. In fact, the involvement of a Kerala module in terrorist activities outside the State was ascertained as early as February 1998 after the serial bomb blasts at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
The LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-BD), are currently active in locations spread across the southern States, including in Kerala. Cadres of these groups receive considerable support on the ground from the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which has a strong presence in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Kerala, SIMI operates under the cover of some 12 front organisations, at least two of which are based in the State capital, Thiruvananthapuram, and a third in the port city of Kochi. While Kondotty in the Malappuram District has also emerged as a hot-bed of SIMI activities, the group’s presence has been reported from Binanipuram in Ernakulam District and Kozhikode, as well.
While some SIMI cadre from Kerala were allegedly involved in the July 2006 serial bomb blasts which targeted the railway network in Mumbai, another SIMI cadre, Yahya Khan alias Kammukutty, a Bangalore-based software professional hailing from Kozhikode in Kerala, who was arrested on February 20, 2008, was carrying out operations in Karnataka and Kerala. Police sources have indicated that Khan had recruited several youth working in the IT sector, especially from Kerala. In fact, an intelligence official in Bangalore disclosed that the borders of Karnataka and Kerala had now become subversive hubs. While there is constant movement of militants between the two neighbouring States, their main areas of operation are Kannur, Kasargod, Wayanad and Kozhikode in Kerala, and Mangalore, Kodagu, Mysore and Bangalore in Karnataka.
Since January 2008, at least 14 militants have been arrested from the Kannur, Thrissur, Kasargod and Idukki Districts in Kerala. In addition, terrorist activity has also been reported from Ernakulam, Kochi, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kottayam and Thiruvananthapuram. Currently, ten of the State’s 14 Districts have reported terrorist activity.
Official sources have indicated that Pakistan-based militant groups backed by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) were helping local extremist groups set up base in Kerala. According to a central intelligence agency, "the mindset of some of the youth and the logistics were two reasons for choosing Kerala as a base". Groups like the LeT have not only harnessed situational advantages accruing from demographic dynamics and communal sensitivities, they have also adequately utilised Kerala’s coastline and its proximity to international waters to their benefit. In addition, the militant-ISI network has a well established hawala system for fund transfers in Kerala.
The waning jihad in Kashmir has gradually induced a shift in the strategy of the militant–ISI complex, with the focus now increasingly directed towards a wide range of subversive activities intended to provoke communal confrontation, engineer terrorist incidents, and recruit soldiers for a pan-Islamist jihad in pockets of Muslim populations across India. Such a strategy is directed towards altering socio-political dynamics and eventually transforming Kerala into a focal point of radical Islam and a launching pad for militants operating in other parts of the country.
Sources disclose, further, that groups like the LeT and their handlers in the ISI have been trying for years to take advantage of demographics in Kerala. Muslims are the second largest community in Kerala after Hindus. According to the 2001 Census, Hindus constitute 56.20 per cent, Muslims 24.7 per cent and Christians 19 per cent of the total population of 31,841,374. Except for Malappuram District, where the Muslims are a majority, however, Hindus constitute the majority in all other Districts. While Muslims form the second largest community in the Kasaragod, Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Palakkad and Kollam Districts, Christians are second in the Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Thiruvananthapuram Districts. According to the First Report on Religion Data released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, while the population of Hindus and Christians declined by 1.48 and 0.32 percentage points respectively, the population of Muslims increased by 1.70 percentage points in Kerala since the last Census in 1991. While the militants’ strategy to provoke communal tensions and create a wedge between communities has failed so far, there is sufficient evidence that the long-term war of attrition by Pakistani state agencies and their jihadi surrogates is continuing. Kerala, which has been a model for religious harmony, is now under sustained threat of terrorist subversion.
Recent links of the Kerala militants with the Pakistani jihad in Kashmir and subversion elsewhere in the country clearly suggest that an insidious process of radicalization has set in at the fringes of the Muslim population in Kerala. This process is linked to outfits such as SIMI, the People's Democratic Party of Abdul Nasser Madhani, the National Development Front, and fringe groups like the Muslim Youth Cultural Forum, Sahridaya Vedi, Karuna Foundation, Samskara Vedi, Solidarity Students Movement, Movement for Protection of Islamic Symbols and Monuments, etc. An official declaration submitted on June 1, 2006, by the Kerala Government before the Justice B.N. Chaturvedi Tribunal examining the legality of the proscription on SIMI, indicated that the outfit's cadres had ‘lately' developed links with the LeT. Reports from various agencies, including the State Police Special Branch, further indicate that SIMI is operating under the cover of religious study, rural development and research centres. Further, SIMI organized a training camp for militants in the forests near the Vagamon Hill resort in Kottayam District in December 2007.
There is, consequently, a real danger of the militancy spreading not only within the State but also outside. Recent evidence from Kerala provides unambiguous confirmation that groups like the LeT have now reached the stage of mobilization of highly motivated militants from States like Kerala for terrorist action and for back-up to existing terrorist operations, both in J&K and other areas of operation, such as Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Bangalore, etc., and in potential areas of expansion. For instance, militants from Kerala are not only fighting in J&K but are also involved in subversive activities in the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The involvement of militants from Kerala has also been noticed in the serial blasts in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai (2006) and Surat.
Kerala is yet to experience a full-fledged terrorist attack. However, available data on terrorist activity indicates that the terrorists’ intention to strike appears undiminished, and there is increasing evidence of augmenting terrorist capacity that is more likely to result in an attack. Among other potential target locations, Police officials indicate that the port city of Kochi, Kerala’s commercial capital with a growing status as an IT hub, is highly vulnerable to terror. While this may not be enough reason to press the panic button just yet, there is no doubt that Kerala’s terrorist network needs to be confronted and neutralized at the earliest.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 16-22, 2009
Bangladesh to raise new border force: The Government will disband its mutiny-hit paramilitary unit the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and raise a new force to guard its borders, a top security official said on March 21, 2009. A mutiny that began on February 25 at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka and then spread to a dozen other towns killed at least 80 persons, mostly Army officers. "A new border force will be raised soon with disciplined and competent troops, including those not involved in the BDR mutiny," Brigadier-General Moinul Islam, the new BDR chief told border security officials at Mymensingh, 150 km north of the capital Dhaka. The former BDR chief, Major-General Shakil Ahmed, was among the 57 officers killed in the mutiny. "The BDR which has been maligned by the last month's mutiny will stand disbanded," Islam said. Reuters, March 21, 2009. Reuters, March 21, 2009.
12 militant outfits active in the country, says Home Ministry: The Cabinet on March 16, 2009, returned to the Home Ministry its report on the activities of militant outfits in Bangladesh asking it to give more information about such organisations and their networks. The report named a dozen such outfits with information on their sources of funding, links to political parties and their operations. Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder placed the report that named 12 militant outfits – the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI-B), Hizbut Towhid, Ulama Anjuman al Bainat, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islami Democratic Party, Islami Samaj, Touhid Trust, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Shahadat-e-al Hikma Party Bangladesh, Tamira Ar-Din Bangladesh (Hizb-e-Abu Omar) and Allahr Dal. The Government has so far banned four Islamist militant outfits – the JMB, HuJI-B, JMJB and Shahadat-e-al Hikma. New Age, March 17, 2009.
15 persons killed as militants attack Army camp in Khyber Agency: The Security Forces (SFs) in Landikotal sub-division of Khyber Agency on March 19, 2009, clashed with Taliban militants after they attacked an Army camp using short-range missiles and mortars. 15 people were reportedly killed in the missile attack. The assailants targeted the military facility near the Landikotal bazaar from their hideouts in the mountains. One of the rockets missed the target and hit a warehouse close to the bazaar, killing 15 men who used to work at the warehouse and had also been using it as a makeshift residence. Following the attack, the SFs retaliated hitting the militants’ positions in the nearby mountains. A source said a madrassa (Seminary) adjacent to the Army camp was also hit in the missile attack. Daily Times, March 20, 2009.
Kabul bombings plot hatched in Pakistan, says Afghanistan’s intelligence agency: Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said on March 18, 2009, that the February 2009 attacks on Government buildings in Kabul were planned and directed from Pakistan, saying seven Afghans had been arrested. The attackers were in telephone contact with a Pakistan-based ringleader during the simultaneous attacks on the Justice Ministry, Prisons Directorate and Education Ministry, agency spokesman Saeed Ansary told reporters. The February 11 attacks, claimed by the Taliban, killed 26 Afghans. Eight of the attackers were killed, three by their suicide bombs. "Seven terrorists were arrested and one was killed during the arrest operation," Ansary said, without giving any further details about the raid. The alleged ringleader, whom Ansary identified only as Harris, was based in the Waziristan tribal area on the Afghan border and was still at large there, the official said. Some of the suspects told authorities they had received military training in Waziristan, he said. "I met Harris in Waziristan and received training in using weapons," one alleged suspect said in a video recording handed to the media. Dawn, March 19, 2009.
15 persons killed and 16 injured in suicide blast in Rawalpindi: 15 people were killed and 16 injured on March 16, 2009, when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a busy bus stand at Pirwadhai in Rawalpindi. Sources quoting investigators said the original target of the bomber could have been the participants of the ‘long march’, of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which was scheduled to pass through the area. Regional Police Officer Nasir Durrani, however, told the media that it would be premature to decide whether the bomber’s original target was the ‘long march’. "The suicide bomber blew himself up on a motorbike outside a restaurant, which was set up close to the cab stand," said Durrani. Daily Times, March 17, 2009.
624 soldiers and 335 civilians among 1,145 persons killed in the North-East during the week: 624 soldiers, 335 civilians and 186 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants were among 1,145 persons killed during intensified fighting in the North and continued killing in the East during the week. 29 LTTE militants were killed and an equal number of them injured following clashes between the Security Forces (SFs) and militants at Iranapalai in the Puthukkudiyiruppu region of Mullaitivu District on March 16. The Army also captured a one kilometre long LTTE-built earth bund in the area southeast of Puthukkudiyiruppu following the clashes. After days of heavy fighting, the troops captured the strategically important Iranapalai Junction in the remaining LTTE-controlled territory of Puthukkudiyiruppu on March 17. The LTTE is now cornered into an area of 30 square kilometres, including the 22 square kilometres of the safe zone demarcated by the Government. In addition, troops clashed with militants in Puthukkudiyiruppu and destroyed a few LTTE hideouts, killing at least 18 militants.
Voice of Tigers (VoT), the LTTE radio station, in its evening broadcast on March 17, claimed that 604 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers were killed during three days of fighting in Puthukkudiyiruppu. Several hundred soldiers were also wounded in the fighting, the broadcast claimed. Further, 84 civilians were killed and over 182 injured as the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) dropped around 50 massive bunker buster bombs and the SLA continued shelling on the fringes of the 'Safe Zone' on March 17, Tamil Net reported. The SLAF and the SLA that targeted Pachchaippulmoaddai and Valaignardam areas within the ‘Safety Zone’ killed 52 civilians and injured 182 others, according to initial reports by the VoT. On the same morning, 32 civilians were killed during shelling in other areas of the 'safe zone', according to independent sources. Earlier, 58 civilians were killed in SLA shelling on March 15. Further, on March 16, 29 more civilians were killed in shelling and six others in the gunfire by the SLA. 73 others civilians were reportedly wounded on the same day.
23 militants were killed and an equal number of then injured during clashes with troops in the area northeast of Puthukkudiyiruppu, Defence.lk reported on March 19. The troops recovered the dead bodies of 12 militants following clashes on March 18. In a separate incident in the same area, another 11 militants were killed. An unspecified number of LTTE cadres were killed by the troops during clashes in the Ampalavanpokkanai, Puthukkudiyiruppu east and Mullaitivu north areas. During subsequent search operations, the SFs recovered dead bodies of 11 militants from Puthukkudiyiruppu. At least 17 civilians were killed on March 18, while 39, including 11 children, were reportedly killed inside the safety zone in SLA attacks on March 19, according to Tamil Net.
The SLA artillery shelling killed 46 civilians inside the ‘Safety Zone’ in the Mullaitivu District, Tamil Net reported. On the same day, SLA soldiers attempted to advance in Iranapalai following heavy artillery firing and air attacks, but were forced to withdraw, leaving behind dead bodies and military hardware, the LTTE said, claiming that at least 20 SLA soldiers were killed and 120 wounded. In addition, a senior Sea Tiger (sea wing of the LTTE) leader was killed and his body was recovered by the troops along with another four bodies following clashes between the SFs and militants in the area south of Patikkarai in Mullaitivu District in the morning of March 20. Citing intercepted LTTE communication, military sources said the LTTE have fled the area, leaving behind the dead bodies, including that of the Sea Tiger leader Sindu. Separately, SLA fired artillery shells into the 'Safety Zone', killing 42 civilians and injuring around 80 civilians on March 21, Tamil Net reported.
On March 22, the SFs captured the LTTE’s last operational centre, Iranapalai. According to military sources, with the fall of Iranapalai, the LTTE have now been confined to a 25 square kilometre land patch, which also includes the ‘Safe Zone’ designed for the displaced civilians. On the same day, 28 militants were killed in clashes with the troops in Puthukkudiyiruppu. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, March 17- 23, 2009.