Attack on Pakistani GHQ: the confessions of a terrorist mastermind highlighted by DAWN

Dawn, 21 September 2011 ….

Shortly after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, Aqeel Ahmed alias Dr Usman alias Kamran alias Nazir Ahmed fled to Waziristan where he met the head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Amjad Farooqui Group, Ustad Aslam Yasin and Ilyas Kashmiri.  The venue was Miramshah. The attendants of the meeting included some of the most notorious militants of Pakistan. And their agenda was nothing short of explosive — an attack on the GHQ with the aim to take military officers hostage.

GHQ attack item  Security forces on alert–Dawn

Shortly after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, Aqeel Ahmed alias Dr Usman alias Kamran alias Nazir Ahmed fled to Waziristan where he met the head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Amjad Farooqui Group, Ustad Aslam Yasin and Ilyas Kashmiri.

It was at this meeting that the idea of the attack on the General Headquarters was floated, reveals the main accused of the attack, Ahmed, in a confessional statement. He along with his seven accomplices was convicted by a military court on Aug 11, 2011, for the audacious attack on the GHQ in October 2009. Shooting their way into the military’s main headquarters, cowboy style, the militants took men hostage in one of the buildings. They remained there till the next morning when commandos finally entered the building, killing most of the militants and rescuing the hostages.

The brazen attack took the military and the nation by surprise; it was a successful operation from the psychological point of view.

The confessional statement of Ahmed reveals the detailed planning that went into the attack. He also claims that in the Miramshah meeting he was reluctant to attack the army. However, the other two men argued that the Pakistan Army as an ally of the United States was a legitimate target. Ilyas Kashmiri said that the plan was to hold army generals hostage at the GHQ till they could get detained militants released in exchange. According to the statement, Yasin gave Ahmed a list with 115 names on it; these were the men whose release was to be demanded. He also assured Ahmed that he would be accompanied by a team of trained warriors.

Ahmed also revealed that he and his accomplices used Google Earth to download the maps of GHQ on the basis of which they planned their attacks. The planning, according to the court documents, took the team months. Apart from arranging for the weapons that were brought to Rawalpindi from Jhang, the accused made multiple reconnaissance trips to the GHQ during the summer of 2009.

However, it was Wajid Mehmood, another accused from a non-military background, who pointed out the locations where high-ranking army officials, including brigadiers and generals, could be found.

Ahmed, who is known for his involvement in a number of high-profile attacks, including those on Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, joined Harkatul Jihad Al Islami in 1999 after completing his studies and went to Afghanistan twice.

After 9/11, he returned to Pakistan after being injured and joined the Army Medical Corps (AMC) as a nursing assistant and was posted to the CMH in Rawalpindi. He was still in touch with Jihadi ‘friends’ then. It was here that he became friends with another accused, Imran Siddique, who was then a soldier in the army.

According to his statement, Ahmed deserted the army in 2005 and became involved with the Amjad Farooqui group. By August 2009, the GHQ plan was in full swing. Ahmed first rented a room at Bilal Boys Hostel, Rawalpindi, and started surveillance of GHQ’s surroundings.

The weapons and explosives were brought over by Usman alias Ishfaq alias Gul Khan hidden in a CNG cylinder.

In September, Ahmed rented a house near DHA’s phase II. He also acquired a van that he then proceeded to fit with army number plates, his statement reveals.

Army uniforms for eight of his accomplices cost him Rs30,000.

According to the statement, from Oct 1 to 9, 2009, Ahmed along with his accomplice Ali carried out surveillance of the area and also briefed others on the attack by using “distance measuring tool” on Google Earth.

Initially, the attack was planned for Oct 6 but this was delayed to Oct 10 as some of the accomplices fell ill.

The statement said the 10 attackers reached the GHQ via Murree Road and dispersed in different directions. The audacious attack as the men broke past the check post resulted in the death of five of them. The rest were able to make it in.

The statements of army officers that comprised the prosecution case highlights the element of surprise with which the attack was carried out. In fact, the bulk of the prosecution’s statements focus on what they saw once the men had made it in. There is little information on what happened at the check post.

According to the court documents, the militants made hostage five officers and 20 civilians. Before they took the men hostage, Ahmed also shot dead the driver of a jeep who refused to tell the militants the locations of the offices of the generals. However, the statement does not explain if the militants were looking for any specific generals or army officers.

Ahmed claimed in his statement that by 11am the militants had taken over the GHQ and the entire area was ‘within their firing range’ though he added that they were surrounded by the army.

The negotiations continued all night; at six in the morning, the SSG attacked and entered the building. They killed the four other militants who were watching over the hostages. Ahmed survived this attack as he was holed up in a separate room from where he was carrying out negotiations over the phone.

In his statement he explains that he then hid in an office, coming out only to join the men carrying out the rescue work; a building had collapsed and men were trying to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble. He nearly escaped scot-free but for a security officer who identified him.

Maj Akhtar Hussain Qamar, security officer (technical) at GHQ, who witnessed the whole episode on CCTV, identified Ahmed. “I saw the whole incident on CCTV and observed that 10 attackers/terrorists had dismounted from a Suzuki van near the Tank Chowk picket. Here they attacked the picket as well as some security staff and five of them were hit, whereas other five managed to enter into the GHQ premises. I reported this whole incident to my superiors. Later I assisted SSG persons and troops in planning the counterattack and recognition of the attackers/terrorists since features/figures of accused number 1 (Ahmed) were very clear in footage.”

According to the charge sheet of Ahmed, security staff recovered nine rifles, one rocket-launcher, 16 empty magazines, 28 loaded magazines, four ammunition pouches, two fly liver-grenades, six AP Claymore mines, six rockets, six expelling charges, eight hand-grenades, eight detonators and 19 40mm grenades of Gp-25 from the militants.

The military court had sentenced Ahmed to death while his accomplice, former soldier Imran Siddique, was sentenced to life in prison. Three civilians were also sentenced to life in prison while two were sentenced to seven years each in prison.


ADDENDUM: Images of suspects in search for those who attacked the Touring Cricket Entourage at Lahore in 2009

32a-- four suspects Identikits of four suspects publicized at one point by the Pakistani authorities – AFP

PAKISTAN-TERROR-SRI LANKA CRICKET A suspect being bundled into a police vehicle

A NOTE: In preparing my article “Cricket under Siege: The Lahore Attack, 3 March 2003” for the book Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket in 2011/12 I came to the conclusion that the media coverage of the attack on the Cricketing entourage was as skimpy as poor. Further, that the authorities in Pakistan were indulging in smoke and mirrors. This thought should not be taken as conclusive because my survey was not thorough and because I id not visit Pakistan or read the vernacular press. When I buttonholed Pakistani cricket writers during the World Cup in Lanka 2011 they were clueless and/or guarded.  The whole incident is not only a commentary on the extremism of certain jihadist forces; it reeks of Pakistani governmental subterfuge.


*  It was not only the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus that came under fire. The min-van carrying the umpires and other officials was part of the convoy and was, in fact, more endangered because its driver was hit and died instantly, while the fourth umpire was hit in the stomach. In fact the min-van was a sitting duck  thereafter and one has to inquire why the militant assault teas am did not advance  massacre all the c occupants namely Steve Davis,  Chris Broad, Simon Taufel, Peter Manuel and others.

* The militant assault team fired an RPG at the tram bus as it slowed down near the roundabout. the shot missed. was this incompetence? or did they shoot to miss?

* In sum, was this merely a symbolic attack -meant to convey a message to the Pakistani government while refraining from killinga visiting corps?

* The entourage would normally have included a second bus with the Pakistani cricket team. That team was late and the other two vehicles set off without the Pakistanis. Was this a typical Asian act of dilatoriness? …. and was their some premeditated delay engineered by the militants?

* Why was the conductor of the  Sri Lankan bus missing –gone AWOL– that particular day? Brendan Kuruppu asked the driver where the conductor was before they set off (information conveyed personally [alas I received Brendan’s lucid account after my book was in press].

* The cricket world needs to know about the unruffled and resolute action taken by Chris Broad in dire circumstances. In the mini-van he led the actions take to stem the flow of blood from the bullet in the fourth umpire’s stomach. When a police trooper who had survived by playing dead clambered into the van for safety, Broad ordered him to drive the van to the stadium.

* Though the action of the coach driver in speeding away and getting the Lankan cricket team to the Stadium has been quite validly applauded, the world should take cognisance of the fortitude shown by Chris Broad and all those in the min-van. Their collective trauma was probably as severe as that of the cricket team. Indeed, when  I buttonholed Steve Davis at a cricket function at Temple Trees in Colombo and asked him if we could meet in Adelaide for a chat  about the incident, he declined quite firmly. He did not want his mind to “go there.”

Cover 23

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