ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Although law enforcement agencies in Miami have succeeded in arresting three Pakistan-born U.S. nationals, including the imams of two Florida mosques, on charges of financing and supporting the Pakistani Taliban, it's likely that a key figure of this network has managed to evade capture and is still present on U.S. soil.
Ikramul Haq – son of Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan, who was arrested along with two of his other sons, Izharul Haq and Irfanul Haq by U.S. law enforcement agencies in Miami on Saturday – has been wanted by the Pakistani police since 2008 in multiple cases pertaining to terrorism, murder, attempt to murder and kidnappings for ransom but has somehow managed to reach his father and brothers in the U.S. in these last two years, according to his nephew and police officials.
Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, and his son, Izharul Haq, 24, were arrested in South Florida, while Irfanul Haq, 37, was detained in Los Angeles. Hafiz Sher Ali is the Imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque, while Izhar is the prayer leader at the Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen Mosque in Margate in Florida. The other three charged indicted by the U.S. on Saturday – Ali Rehman, Alamzeb and Amna Bibi – are living in Pakistan. Amna is Hafiz Sher’s daughter and Alamzeb his grandson.
The six are accused of “supporting acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming in Pakistan and elsewhere” carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is classified as a “designated foreign terrorist organization” by the U.S. government.
The indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo A. Ferrer and local FBI agents at a time when U.S. relations with Pakistan are strained over the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
“The defendants sought to aid the Pakistani Taliban's fight against the Pakistani government and its perceived allies, including the United States, by supporting acts of murder, kidnapping, and maiming in Pakistan and elsewhere," said the indictment released by the U.S. attorney's office in Miami, according to media reports. If convicted, each faced a potential 15 years in prison for each count of the indictment.
"Let me be clear that this is not an indictment against a particular community or religion. Instead, today's indictment charges six individuals for promoting terror and violence through their financial and other support of the Pakistani Taliban," the attorney said in a statement.
The indictment also alleges that the elder Khan supported the Taliban through a madrassa that he founded in Swat. “Khan has allegedly ... sent children from the madrassa to learn to kill Americans in Afghanistan," it said.
In July 2009, Khan and his son Irfan participated in a recorded conversation in which Khan “called for an attack on the Pakistani Assembly that would resemble the September 2008 suicide bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad," according to the Justice Department.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, Alamzeb, who is among the six people charged with abetting terrorism, has confirmed that three of his maternal uncles, including Ikramul Haq, were with his grandfather in the U.S. The information was shared by a credible source on the condition of anonymity.
Alamzeb and his mother Amna rejected the allegations leveled against them by U.S. law enforcement agencies that Ali Rehman, who Alamzeb confirmed was his grandfather’s friend from Mingwara in Swat (in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and owned a shop in the area, received money from Hafiz Sher and later handed it over to Amna for further transmitting it to the Taliban.
Although Alamzeb denies the allegations against him and the family, officials at the Kabal Police Station in Swat said that Hafiz Sher's son Ikramul Haq was wanted in two cases registered in the Kabal Police Station in 2008. “The first case was registered against him on January 12, 2008 under sections 324, 353, 427, 120B, 124A, 512 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and the second case was registered on October 22, 2008 under sections 302, 353, 120B, 364, 434, 3/4 of the Explosives Act, 324, 148, 149, 404 and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” they said, adding that the latter pertains to an attack on an army convoy on October 21, 2008.
Police officials also confirmed that Ikramul Haq was associated with the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), and later with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat headed by Mullah Fazalullah.
TNSM is considered as one of the most dangerous religious-militant groups in Pakistan. Its founder and leader, Sufi Mohammad, is behind bars and the organization was banned in early 2002. Still, its support base in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas (especially in Malakand district and Bajaur Agency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) is solid. The organization witnessed its peak in 1994-95 when Pakistan experienced its first brush with this indigenous Taliban-style movement. At this time, the group took to the streets in large numbers in the Malakand region and demanded the enforcement of Sharia laws. The Pakistani government responded in a lackluster and weak manner, providing additional confidence to TNSM's cadres.
The U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, beginning in late 2001, gave the TNSM new energy and enthusiasm. The organization’s first major action was its strident demand for the introduction of Sharia law in Malakand Division on May 9, 1994. It was not a mere slogan and within a couple of weeks, the TNSM took control of the area, including government offices and a local airport, through sheer force and announced the imposition of Sharia law. The group's call to arms drew large numbers of experienced Afghan fighters from nearby Peshawar city and Bajaur Agency.
Embarrassed by this turn of events, the Pakistani government acted belatedly and foolishly, leading to the deaths of around 40 people, including a member of the provincial assembly and more than a dozen paramilitary troops, before some semblance of normality was returned to the area. Peace was only restored after a deal that served as a clear victory for TNSM-Sufi Mohammad handed himself over to the military and the federal government who had agreed to accept TNSM's major demand, which was the enforcement of Sharia. Immediate official instructions were then issued to establish religious courts. TNSM's supporters, meanwhile, started driving on the wrong side of the road claiming to defy the traffic rules introduced by Great Britain a century ago. Men were also told to grow beards. In short, Talibanization began to take place.