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Free jihadis on the loose in Pakistan
Anti-terrorism forces in Pakistan have been told to brace themselves for a wave of atrocities. Intelligence officials warned that the security situation is now more precarious than it was before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Senior officers say they are "back to square one" in their fight against international terrorist groups after the release of dozens of militants by Pakistani courts. High-ranking police officials say that as many as 80 hard-core militants are on the loose after being cleared by the courts or released on bail.
A memo sent by Pakistan's interior ministry to law enforcement agencies around the country warns of a plot to use suicide bombers to target Britons and Americans, including diplomats, in a coordinated campaign involving some of the country's most notorious terrorist groups. The ministry warned that the bombers were also believed to be looking at high-profile individuals and military installations as potential targets.
Last month, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, warned of the growing threat from within Pakistan. She said young British Muslims were being groomed to become suicide bombers and that most of the 1,600 suspects being tracked by her agents were British-born but linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. MI5 is reported to have compiled detailed dossiers on British Muslims travelling to jihadist training camps in Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan, the region where the United States believes Osama bin Laden is hiding. At least two of the British Muslims involved in the Tube and bus bombings in London on July 7 last year are known to have visited training camps in Pakistan.
Counter-terrorism officials are aghast at the decision by the courts to free so many people suspected of involvement in attacks. Police say many have since disappeared off the radar of intelligence agencies and are believed to be planning to strike. Among those released recently are Sohail Akhtar (aka Mustafa), the operational commander of the outlawed Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami group. . . Intelligence officers say Mustafa — who was initially sentenced to death before a court overturned the verdict — is also believed to have travelled to Iraq to establish contact between al-Qaeda and terrorists there. His interrogators described him as "a terrorist genius". One official said: "He was the one who cobbled together all the jihadis, working under various organisations, by coining the slogan, 'The ways should be different but the goal should be one'."
The government has called a meeting in Islamabad this week to discuss the release of militants. It may put forward a strategy to deter the courts from clearing suspects or releasing them on bail.
Don't hold your breath.