Sectarian terrorist groups have been responsible for over 4,000 deaths in Pakistan since the late 1980s, and LeJ has established a reputation as the most violent Sunni extremist organisation in the country, killing hundreds of Shias since its formation. Among the Shias LeJ has targeted for killing have been doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, lobbyists, and scholars. LeJ attacks have also targeted Christians, including attacks on a Christian church and a Christian school in Islamabad in 2002, and Iranian nationals in Pakistan, accusing the latter of funding groups in Pakistan perceived as trying to establish Shia dominance.
While sectarian attacks remain LeJ’s primary driving force, it has broadened its focus to target the Western presence in Pakistan, such as the abduction and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002, the car bomb attack on French nationals in Karachi in May 2002, and car bombings outside the US Consulate in Karachi in June 2002 and March 2006.
LeJ has also been involved in attacks on Pakistani government targets, including two failed assassination attempts against President Musharaff in 2003, and the failed assassination attempt against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. LeJ chief Qari Zafar is suspected of involvement in the September 2008 truck bombing of the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad.
A large portion of LeJ’s funding comes from wealthy supporters in Karachi. Additional funding is derived from sources in Saudi Arabia, as well as from criminal activities, such as protection rackets and extortion from both Shia and Sunni banks and businesses.
Pakistani government security crackdowns on sectarian groups have been only partially successful, as fear of retaliation means that some judges are reluctant to hear sectarian cases, and police officers investigating sectarian murders have been killed. The large increase in the number of Deobandi madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan provides a pool of manpower from which LeJ can recruit.
LeJ operated major training camps in Muridke and Kabirwal, Pakistan, and in Sarobi, Afghanistan. However, the camp in Afghanistan was destroyed during the US invasion in 2001, and the camps in Pakistan have reportedly been closed due to pressure from the police. LeJ has reportedly been one of several terrorists groups that have set up eight training camps in the Darra Adam Khel area of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, and LeJ was described as the most active group in the area.
As part of the Sunni militant community, LeJ can rely on the assistance of other Pakistani terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Harakat ul-Mujahideen, Harakat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammad, all of which are members of Usama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front.
LeJ also has an extremely close relationship with the Afghan Taliban, having fought with them against the Northern Alliance and participated in killings of Shias during the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
LeJ’s goals are to establish an Islamic Sunni state in Pakistan based on Sharia law, through the use of violence if necessary; to have all Shias declared non-believers; and to eliminate followers of other faiths, especially Jews, Christians, and Hindus.
Leadership and membership
The current leader of LeJ is reportedly Qari Zafar of Karachi, who also has links to al-Qa’ida. He probably assumed the role in early 2007, following the 4 February 2007 arrest of former leader Rizwan Ahmad in Lahore on suspicion of planning suicide attacks. LeJ is estimated to have around 300 active members. It maintains a multi-cellular structure, made up of loosely co-ordinated regional sub-units, further divided into several small cells of five to eight members each that operate independently of one another.