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The Wall Street Journal

Airline Terror Plot: Pakistan Stays a Terrorism Source --- Extremist Islamic Groups Rooted in Kashmir Dispute Join Attacks Against West
By Jay Solomon

August 12, 2006 Saturday

Five years after the U.S. began counterterrorism operations inside Pakistan, the country remains a principal center for terrorist training globally, say intelligence and counterterrorism officials in the U.S., Central Asia and Middle East.

Over the past year alone, the U.S., Lebanon, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom have arrested suspected militants who either had trained in Pakistan, or were preparing to do so -- most recently in what British authorities said was a London-based plot they interrupted that would have attacked U.S.-bound airliners.

British officials have categorized 24 suspects they arrested Thursday as "homegrown" terrorists radicalized while living inside the U.K. But there is evidence the suspects had ties to Pakistan, and some had traveled there recently. A U.S. official said some of the conceptualizing for the plot had occurred in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a nexus for extremist Islamic groups, many of which grew out of militant groups active in Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region Pakistan and India have fought over since 1947. "If you're in southeast London, who is your first point of contact if you want to get into terrorism?. . . . You make contact with Kashmiri groups," said Hussain Haqani, a Boston University expert on Pakistan who has advised three Pakistani prime ministers.

Pakistan's role as a terrorist breeding ground is a legacy of both tensions with its neighbor and rival, India, and of the distortions that the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union forced on the region. In recent years, groups that emerged from those conflicts appeared to blur with al Qaeda and assume its mission of attacking the West. They also have helped to fracture Pakistan, an autocracy that Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, attempts to rule without a popular mandate.

Pakistan's troubles mirror in many ways the role Lebanon has played in destabilizing the Middle East in recent months. In both countries, pro-Western governments have been undercut by militants largely operating outside their direct control. In Pakistan's case, the main forces are the Taliban, the Islamists who once ruled Afghanistan, and al Qaeda; in Lebanon's, it is Hezbollah. In both countries, as well, elements in the security services have sympathized, if not cooperated, with these extremist groups.

Mr. Haqani and other Pakistan experts also say they believe elements of the country's intelligence service keep in contact with militant groups. Those links came under scrutiny in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. The Bush administration showered Pakistan with aid and military hardware, including recently approved F-16 fighter jets, in exchange for Gen. Musharraf's tolerance of U.S. military activities in Afghanistan and help in arresting al Qaeda operatives in his country.

But despite Islamabad's arrest of more than 600 militants over the past five years, Pakistan keeps producing extremists.

Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it broke up a seven-nation al Qaeda cell that was plotting to bomb underground subway stations and other infrastructure inside the U.S. Among the masterminds of the plot, said the FBI and Lebanese government, was a 31-year-old Beirut-based economics teacher, Assem Hammoud, who was detained in Lebanon with detailed maps of U.S. infrastructure. Lebanese officials say Mr. Hammoud was communicating with operatives ranging from Syria to Iran via the Internet and was set to fly to Pakistan for munitions training.

"We arrested him two days before he was supposed to begin" in Pakistan, said the chief of Lebanon's police forces, Major Gen. Achraf Rifi, in an interview. "He was then to move to Canada" to begin executing the plot, he said.

Another alleged terrorist plot involving the Internet and multiple countries also was tied directly to training camps in Pakistan, say counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and the U.K. In June, Canadian authorities arrested a cell of alleged Islamist militants in Toronto after monitoring the Internet traffic they posted through a London-based Web-site operator. The Toronto arrests were tied to a global investigation that also involved suspected militants operating in Bosnia, Denmark, the U.K. and Atlanta.

As the investigation broadened, U.K. police arrested two ethnic-Pakistani men in Manchester airport on terrorism-related charges in June. One of the men, 21-year-old Abed Khan, was charged with threatening to use explosives and poisons as part of a terrorist plot. An official working on the investigation said Mr. Khan had been trained in Pakistan's tribal areas. "More and more we're seeing people going to Pakistan for munitions training," said the official. "The camps that were in Afghanistan have moved to Pakistan."

Members of President Hamid Karzai's government in Afghanistan also assert that militants operating inside their country are trained in Pakistan. They apparently draw inspiration from another theater of violence: Their attacks have grown increasingly lethal, as Pakistan-based militants employ many of the same suicide attacks that are common in Iraq. They also have been developing the same improvised-explosive devices that Sunni militants have been using against U.S. military targets in Iraq.

"Pakistan needs to do a lot more to combat the activities of the Taliban" and other groups, said Afghanistan's ambassador to Washington, Tayeb Jawad, in an interview last month. "Pakistan is also a victim of this . . . I hope the generals of Pakistan realize this."

Pakistani officials, in turn, say it is Afghanistan that remains the terrorist breeding ground. Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., told reporters Friday that he thought that the London terrorist plot had roots in al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan. "There are no training camps in Pakistan for jihad," he said.

The continuing links to terrorism in Pakistan draw sharp criticism from many counterterrorism officials and South Asia experts. Gen. Musharraf has constantly stressed that his government has done more than any other country to combat al Qaeda, and cites the numbers of arrests and the fierce battles waged by Pakistani troops against militants in the tribal areas. He also has described how difficult it is for Islamabad to fully control some border areas, which have traditionally been autonomously run under tribal law.

Gen. Musharraf himself has been the victim of two attempted assassination attempts since 2003. In both cases, elements of Pakistan's armed force conspired with militant Islamist groups, say Pakistani officials.

Still, many counterterrorism officials say Islamabad's failings against terrorism stem from its continuing attempt to differentiate between al Qaeda and the Kashmir-focused groups it has trained to fight against India for decades.

Letting these groups flourish inside Pakistan, say counterterrorism officials, has served as a magnet for self-starting militants from Europe and the Middle East that continue to seek out training. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmiri group, often trains these aspiring terrorists themselves, or puts them directly in contact with al Qaeda. This is seen as the process that brought some of the July 7, 2005, London bombers in contact with al Qaeda militants last year.

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