LAHORE: The Pakistani authorities investigating the March 30, 2009 terrorist attack on the Manawan police training school in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, that killed 10 policemen, have described the 30/3 assault as the first ever “fidayeen” attack carried out anywhere in the country by any militant group since the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.

Those investigating the attack say it was actually a “fidayeen operation” which was carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan under a changed strategy to inflict maximum damage, unlike the past practice of carrying out straight suicide bombings after approaching the target. The investigators say the distinction between the fidayeen and the suicide bomber is extremely fine. A fidayeen attack is not a suicide attack but a different kind of assault in which a heavily armed militant sneaks into his target and starts firing bullets besides throwing hand grenades, only to fight until death.

A fidayeen attacker does not believe in exploding himself to instant death but he fights until the end, often launching attacks in difficult situations where death is inevitable. A fidayeen attacker, the investigators say, is supposed to try to escape after fulfilling the mission.

Those investigating the March 30 attack have identified Qari Hussain Mehsud, a close associate of the FBI’s Most wanted Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud, as the mastermind of the 30/3 assault; he had personally visited the site of the assault before choosing it as the next target to launch a fidayeen attack. According to circles close to those investigating the Manawan attack, Hijratullah alias Nadeem Asghar, one of the terrorists captured alive by the security forces from outside the police training school while the military operation was still on, disclosed that he was working under the command of Qari Hussain Mehsud, a key TTP commander loyal to Baitullah.

Qari Hussain Mehsud, who has already been named by Baitullah Mehsud as his successor in case of his death, is notorious for training suicide bombers and sending them on fatal missions. The investigators say the three terrorists who eventually blew themselves up inside the Manawan police training centre on March 30th to avoid being caught alive, had actually been trained in suicide bombing by Qari Hussain Mehsud at his training camp in the Spinkai Ragzai area of South Waziristan.

As a matter of fact, the investigators say, the Spinkai Ragzai suicide training camp that had been dismantled by the Pakistan army in January 2008 following a massive military operation - Operation Zalzala - seems to have been reactivated by Qari Hussain Mehsud after the withdrawal of the army troops from the area after the 2008 general elections.

It was one of the main targets of the military operation in view of intelligence information that young boys not more than 17 years of age are introduced by him as the ones restlessly waiting for their turn to strike against targets and embrace martyrdom. Someone who specialises in indoctrinating teenagers in violence in the name of Islam, Qari Hussain Mehsud is believed to have become the main ideologue of the Pakistani Taliban militants working under Baitullah Mehsud’s command. The Pakistani agencies are trying to hunt him down since long given his status as the person who may have recruited and indoctrinated the largest number of people to carry out suicide attacks in the country.

Interestingly, Qari Hussain, who is well known in the TTP ranks for his strong anti-Shia views and his close ties with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), was reported killed on January 27, 2008 during the Operation Zalzala, after his hideout was targeted with a missile. The army had launched the operation on January 24 after the Taliban forces commanded by Baitullah overran two military outposts and conducted attacks against other forts and military convoys in South Waziristan. While announcing Hussain’s death, the military authorities had claimed to have intercepted a telephonic communication between two of the TTP commanders about the death of the Mehsud lieutenant during the operation

The military had repeated its claim on May 18, 2008 after taking reporters to one of Qari Hussain Mehsud’s suicide camps in Spinkai in South Waziristan. “It was like a factory that had been recruiting nine to twelve-year-old boys, and turning them into suicide bombers”, said Maj-Gen Tariq Khan, the commander of the Pakistan Army’s 14 Division which had led the operation in South Waziristan. However, hardly four days later, on May 23, 2008, Qari Hussain Mehsud sprung a surprise to the Pakistani military authorities by addressing a press conference at a government school building in South Waziristan just after his boss Baitullah Mehsud had declared that the Taliban would continue to attack the NATO forces in Afghanistan. “I am alive, don’t you see me?” Hussain had said.

Asked about the motive behind the Manawan fidayeen attack, the investigators point out Baitullah Mehsud’s Tuesday responsibility claim saying: “The assault was in retaliation for the continued drone strikes by the US in collaboration with Pakistan on our people. Such attacks will continue as long as Pakistan continued supporting the Americans. The Manawan attack was carried out four days after the US State Department authorised [on March 25] a reward of up to $ 5 million for information leading to the location, arrest, and/or conviction of Baitullah Mehsud, describing him as a key Al-Qaeda facilitator in the lawless tribal region of South Waziristan.”

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