Formation - The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) is a Pakistan-based terrorist group with an affiliate in Bangladesh. While the exact formation date of the group is not known, its origin is traced to the Soviet-Afghan war. Qari Saifullah Akhtar along with two of his associates, Maulana Irshad Ahmed and Maulana Abdus Samad Sial, all seminary students from Karachi in Pakistan, were instrumental in laying the foundation of a group, Jamiat Ansarul Afghaneen (JAA, the Party of the Friends of the Afghan People), sometime in 1980. Towards the end of its Afghanistan engagement, the JAA rechristened itself as HuJI and reoriented its strategy to fight for the cause of fellow Muslims in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
The HuJI continued to exist after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 by merging with another Pakistani militant group known as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to form the Harkat-ul-Ansar which subsequently began terrorist operations in J&K. In order to avoid the ramifications of the U.S designation of Harkat-ul-Ansar as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, it renamed itself as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in certain areas while its Bangladesh-based unit (formed in 1992) is known as the HuJI Bangladesh (HuJI-B). The HuJI-B functioned, in the initial years, under the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh led by Fazlur Rahman, one of the signatories of the February 23, 1998 declaration of ‘holy war’ under the banner of Osama bin Laden’s World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders.
Objectives and Ideology - The HuJI belongs to the Deobandi school of thought and its recruits are indoctrinated in the mould of radical Islam. By describing itself as the "second line of defence for every Muslim", it aims to establish Islamic rule by waging war. The group operating in Bangladesh, HuJI-B, aims to establish Islamic rule in the country by waging war and killing progressive intellectuals. It draws inspiration from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. At one point of time, it had issued a slogan, Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan (We will all become Taliban and we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan).
The HuJI supports, like the other Pakistan-based terrorist groups, the secession of J&K from India and its eventual accession to Pakistan, essentially through violence. It also propagates the idea of Islamic rule over all parts of India.
Among the other objectives of the HuJI is the Islamisation of Pakistani society.
Leadership - Bashir Ahmed Mir, the HuJI ‘commander-in-chief’ for operations across India, was shot dead by police in the Doda district in J&K on January 25, 2008. Operating under the code-name "Hijazi," "Pakistan-trained Mir is believed to have ordered a string of strikes across north and south-east India last year , including the court complex bombings in Uttar Pradesh, the bombing of the Ajmer Sharif shrine in Rajasthan, and the multiple bombings which took place in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, in May and August ." A resident of Chatroo village in J&K, Mir joined the "Harkat-ul-Ansar, which later transformed itself into the Jaish-e-Mohammad, in 1992. He trained in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir from 1994 to 1995, and was then assigned the charge of instructing new recruits at a HuJI-run camp near Mansehra [Pakistan]. 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 appointed commander-in-chief of the HuJI in India in 2004.
After the HuJI lost its base in Afghanistan following the US military operations in 2001, most of its leaders, including Qari Saifullah Akhtar, took shelter in South Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While an unspecified number of its cadres also made their way into Central Asia and Chechnya to escape capture at the hands of the Americans, many went into Pakistan to establish themselves in the FATA and Buner in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
The Pakistan-based Shahid Bilal, who is alleged to have masterminded several bomb blasts across the Indian hinterland, is believed to be the operations chief of the HuJI. However, there are conflicting reports on his existence. While some reports have indicated that he was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Karachi on August 30, 2007, some others have reported that Bilal is alive and shuttling from Bangladesh to Karachi. Bilal, a resident of Hyderabad had fled from India to Bangladesh sometime in 2002 and subsequently joined the HuJI. He recruited several persons from Hyderabad to carry out attacks on India and Hyderabad in particular.
According to an August 27, 2007 report in Indian Express, "Shahid Bilal, who is also named in the Mecca Masjid blasts, went to Saudi Arabia for training in 2002-2003 and was an understudy of his maternal uncle Farhatullah Ghori, a Jaish-e-Mohammed operative. A resident of Misram Bagh in Hyderabad, Bilal returned to the city in 2005 before the attack on the STF headquarters. Currently based in Karachi, Bilal has operated with Abdul Kalim Pasha in Bidar in the past and has links with fellow-Hyderabadi Rasool Party who used local youths in the assassination of Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya. Rasool is also in Karachi."
There have been reports that the HuJI operations are now being handled by Mohammed Amjad after the death of Shahid Bilal.
In August 2004, Qari Saifullah Akhtar was arrested by Dubai authorities and deported to Pakistan. He was in Dubai after he moved out of Saudi Arabia where he was in hiding earlier. Qari fled Afghanistan after the "American invasion in late 2001, taking shelter in South Waziristan before he was spirited out of Pakistan." After deportation, he was detained on the charge of anti-state activities. But he was released by the security agencies on May 21, 2007. An editorial in Daily Times on August 9, 2004 stated: "Like Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Muhammad, Qari Saifullah Akhtar — born in 1958 in South Waziristan — was a graduate of the Banuri Masjid in Karachi. He was a crucial figure in Mufti Shamzai’s efforts to get Osama bin Laden and Mullah Umar together as partners-in-jihad. Qari Saifullah Akhtar first came to public view when he was caught as one of the would-be army coup-makers of 1995 led by Major-General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, but saved his skin by turning ‘state witness’. (Some say he was defiant but was still let off.) After that, he surfaced in Kandahar and from 1996 was an adviser to Mullah Umar in the Taliban government. His fighters were called ‘Punjabi’ Taliban and were offered employment, something that other outfits could not get out of Mullah Umar. His outfit had membership among the Taliban too. Three Taliban ministers and 22 judges belonged to his Harkat."
Qari Saifullah Akhtar was also arrested along with his three sons on February 25, 2008 for his alleged links with the October 18, 2007-suicide bombing in Karachi that narrowly missed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto but killed about 150 others. However, Akhtar was freed from custody on March 26, 2008 due to lack of evidence.
The HuJI-B's ‘operations commander’, Mufti Abdul Hannan, who was trained in Peshawar, capital of NWFP, and fought in the jihad in Afghanistan, was arrested in Dhaka on October 1, 2005. The HuJI-B is led by Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid and Imtiaz Quddus is the general secretary of the outfit.
Cadre - Although there is no authoritative information on the actual cadre strength, some reports mention it to be around 500-750.
Area of Activity and Influence - While the present global influence of the HuJI is not known, its presence has been reported from more than 20 countries in the past. The HuJI, according to one report, had spread its wings by 2005 to 24 countries, including India, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Iran, Malaysia, Fiji, UK, US, Ireland, the Philippines, and parts of Africa and the West Asia. The outfit, according to a report in The Friday Times, maintained branches in 40 districts and tehsils (revenue divisions) in Pakistan, including Sargodha, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Khanpur, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Mianwali, Bannu, Kohat, Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan, Swabi and Peshawar. It also had an office in Islamabad.
Daily Times reported on August 9, 2004 that "In difficult times, the Harkat fighters stood together with Mullah Umar. Approximately 300 of them were killed fighting the Northern Alliance, after which Mullah Umar was pleased to give Harkat the permission to build six more ‘maskars’ (training camps) in Kandahar, Kabul and Khost, where the Taliban army and police also received military training. From its base in Afghanistan, the Harkat launched its campaigns inside Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya. It finally became the biggest jihadi militia based in Kandahar located in the middle of the Taliban-Al Qaeda strategic merger."
The HuJI’s operations in J&K began in 1991 and it was reportedly managed by a semi-autonomous unit led by ‘chief commander’ Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. According to an estimate in 2002, 650 HuJI cadres were killed in its battle against the Indian army: 190 belonging to both sides of Kashmir, nearly 200 belonging to Punjab, 49 to Sindh, 29 to Balochistan, 70 to Afghanistan, 5 to Turkey, and 49 collectively to Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Arab world. However, the HuJI activities in Jammu and Kashmir have progressively declined since 9/11.
The post 9/11 decline in HuJI operations in J&K, however, coincided with the increasing involvement of its Bangladesh based affiliate in several terrorist attacks in the Indian hinterland. The outfit was involved in the attack on American Center in Kolkata on January 22, 2002. The Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF), which claimed responsibility for the attack, was affiliated to the HuJI, formed and manned largely by Bangladeshi migrants in India and some HuJI militants in India who were trained at ISI-backed training camps in Pakistan. Further, the October 12, 2005 suicide attack on the Special Task Force (STF) office of the Hyderabad Police brought it under the scanner of intelligence agencies. Since that attack in Hyderabad, footprints of the HuJI have been witnessed in most of the terrorist attacks that have taken place in India’s urban centres, either directly or indirectly.
The HuJI is believed to have played an important role in the February 2007 bomb blasts in the Samjhauta Express that left 68 persons dead. The May 25, 2007 twin blasts at the Lumbini open air auditorium and a popular restaurant Gokul Chat Bhandar in Hyderabad is also suspected to be the handiwork of HuJI and sleeper cells of the JeM and LeT.
The HuJI has also been linked to the serial bomb blasts in Jaipur on May 13, 2008. "While the SIMI [Students Islamic Movement of India] module might have comprised locals, HuJI could have sent some of its men from outside the state, even from Bangladesh," said Additional Director General of Police (Crime) A. K. Jain, who is supervising the probe.
Available evidence indicates that the HuJI has a strong network in western Uttar Pradesh. The HuJI modules active in Uttar Pradesh are reportedly being monitored from Bangladesh and coordination among the units is allegedly being done by Bilal, the suspected mastermind behind the May 18, 2007 blast at the Mecca mosque in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, in which 11 persons died. The serial bomb blasts of November 23, 2007 in court premises at Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow in which 15 persons died were orchestrated by the HuJI. One of the militants arrested in that case, Sajjad (a resident of Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir), is a relative of Mohammed Amin Wani, a HuJI militant arrested in January 2007 by the Delhi Police. According to police, Wani was trained in a camp at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and subsequently in a HuJI camp at Reeshkhore in Afghanistan. He had disclosed to the police about Sajjad who was then HuJI in-charge in Uttar Pradesh. Wani was also instrumental in initiating several young men from western Uttar Pradesh into terrorism, the police said.
The December 22, 2007 arrest of Mohammad Tariq Qasmi and Khalid Mujahid, two HuJI militants involved in the November 23 serial bomb blasts, and the May 22 Gorakhpur blasts, brought to light the deep tentacles of the group in Uttar Pradesh. Qasmi, a qualified Unani doctor, is the area commander of HuJI in Uttar Pradesh and was the intizamiya (arrangement) in charge of the group. Khalid Mujahid was the head of the action group of the HuJI. Qasmi was reportedly in regular contact with the Pakistan-based HuJI leader, Tauqeer. Brij Lal, the Additional Director-General of Police, stated that money was delivered to Qasmi through local contacts and the bombs were made and supplied by Mukhtar alias Raju, who has made several trips to Bangladesh through the Malda district in West Bengal.
Since 2005, militant groups like the HuJI, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have, with considerable assistance from local groups like the SIMI, established an extensive network in Uttar Pradesh. While the HuJI has a strong network in western Uttar Pradesh, its cadre have reportedly infiltrated into all regions of the State. Recent trends have demonstrated the involvement of technically qualified youth within the HuJI fold and the ability of its cadre "to operate autonomously in small cells, deadly use of explosive devices, careful selection of soft and hard targets and willingness to inflict mass casualties."
The HuJI is reported to have also established several sleeper cells across Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Links - The HuJI is closely linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The group receives patronage and support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and is also linked with several Islamist groups operating in India, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). According to intelligence sources, the group’s anti-India operations are planned by the ISI, mostly from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. The HUJI-B has coordinated its attacks along with the SIMI, the LeT and JeM. SIMI cadres have provided to the HUJI-B cadres shelter and logistical help prior to the attack. A number of SIMI cadres have also joined the HUJI-B. For example, On April 5, 2006, the Uttar Pradesh STF arrested six persons, including Waliullah, the 32-year old Pesh Imam of a mosque in Phulpur near Allahabad. Waliullah, a former SIMI cadre, was HuJI-B's area commander for eastern UP. On the other hand, the LeT and JeM cadres have taken part in the actual orchestration of the attack. For example, HuJI-B had executed the March 7, 2006 attack in collaboration with the JeM and SIMI at the Sankatmochan Temple and the Railway Station at Varanasi. The December 28, 2005 attack at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, in which a Delhi University mathematics professor was killed, was attributed to the HuJI-JeM combine.
Further, the HuJI maintains links with militant groups operating in India's northeast, including the Assam-based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Manipur-based People’s United Liberation Front (PULF). The HuJI is reportedly running some of ULFA's camps situated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh along the border of Tripura.
Proscription - The HuJI is a banned terrorist organisation in India under The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004.
The US State Department designated the HuJI as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in March 2008 and accordingly all the US financial institutions were required to freeze assets held by the militant group. Earlier, the US administration had classified the HuJI in the 'Other Terrorist Organisations' list in 2003.
Terrorist Outfits’ operating in J&K : links to the Pakistani State. India has long accused Pakistan's premier intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of arming, training, and providing logistical support to militants in Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan denies any ongoing collaboration between the ISI and militants, stressing a change of course after September 11, 2001. After the December 2001 attack on India's parliament, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf promised to crack down on terrorist groups active in Jammu & Kashmir and purge ISI officials with ties to these groups. However, the Indian government implied the ISI's involvement in a July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, and again in the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. The Indian embassy in Kabul was again attacked in October 2008.
Some experts believe the relationship between the Pakistani military and some Kashmiri groups has turned with the rise of militancy within Pakistan. Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, says the ISI "has certainly lost control" of Kashmiri militant groups. According to Nawaz, some of the groups trained by the ISI to fuel insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir have been implicated in bombings and attacks within Pakistan, therefore making them army targets.
The Al-Qaeda Connection - Many terrorists active in Jammu & Kashmir received training in the same madrasas, or Muslim seminaries, where Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters studied, and some received military training at camps in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Leaders of some of these terror groups also have al-Qaeda connections. The long-time leader of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen group, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, signed al-Qaeda's 1998 declaration of holy war, which called on Muslims to attack all Americans and their allies. Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed organization, traveled to Afghanistan several times to meet Osama bin Laden. Azhar's group is suspected of receiving funding from al-Qaeda, U.S. and Indian officials say. In 2006, al-Qaeda claimed to have established a wing in Kashmir.
Obstacle to Peace - Despite a resumption of formal peace talks between India and Pakistan in 2004, militant attacks continue to hinder progress towards a sustainable deal on Kashmir. After New Delhi and Islamabad agreed to launch a landmark bus service in February 2005 across the cease-fire line, militants vowed to target the service. In April of the same year, one bus survived a grenade attack.Both India and Pakistan have been accused of committing human rights violations in Kashmir, exacerbating the antagonism and mutual distrust both states have for one another. Talks were effectively put on hold in 2008 after India accused the ISI and Pakistani authorities of being complicit in the Mumbai attacks.