There are two jihadi terrorist organisations by the name the 313 Brigade. The first is Kashmir-centric and is associated with the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) of Qari Saifullah Akhtar. It has been in existence since at least 1999 and is a member of the United Jihad Council, based in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, which is headed by Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen. It looks upon India as its main enemy and is not against the government of Pakistsan, its Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
On December 15, 1999, a Rashtriya Rifles unit in Jammu & Kashmir had killed one Sher Khan, who was described as the chief commander of a newly formed 313 Brigade and a HUJI commander called Nadeem Khan during an encounter in the Marot forest area of Surankote. The Excelsior, a daily newspaper published from Jammu, had quoted Indian defence sources as saying that the 313 Brigade had been formed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) a few days earlier. They claimed to have killed its leader within a few days of its formation and infiltration into J&K.
Thereafter, from to time, there were references to the activities of the 313 Brigade in the Surankote area of J & K. In October 2004, a Rashtriya Rifles unit captured one Sabzar Ahmed, a resident of the Surankote area, who was described as a member of the 313 Brigade.
On March 17, 2006, The Nation, the Pakistani daily, had carried a report on a letter jointly written to Pervez Musharraf by the members of the United Jihad Council of Kashmir protesting against his government succumbing to pressure from the George Bush administration to discontinue support to the Kashmir-related jihadi organisations. Among those who had signed the letter was one Munir Ahmed of the 313 Brigade.
In April 2006, the US State Department issued the 2006 "Country Reports on Terrorism," which listed a number of designated "foreign terrorist organizations" and also listed "other selected terrorist groups also deemed to be of relevance to the global war on terrorism." The HUJI was listed in the latter category. The report noted the group's "links to al Qaeda," and that the "HUJI's operations in Kashmir were led by Commander Ilyas Kashmiri, a former commander in the Afghan jihad, .... who was arrested in October2005 on charges of attacks against President Musharraf in 2003."
Reports in the Pakistani media indicated that Ilyas Kashmiri, who headed the 313 Brigade of the HUJI in J&K, was released by the Pakistani authorities on the intervention of Syed Salahuddin and had shifted from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), where he was previously based, to the Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
A second organisation also known as the 313 Brigade is Pakistan-centric and is the fighting arm of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998 in association with a number of terrorist organisations of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and other countries. It came into existence after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It looks upon the US and Israel as its main enemies. It is strongly against the Pakistan Govt, its Army and the ISI because of their alleged co-operation with the US in Afghanistan.
While the Kashmir-centric 313 Brigade claims responsibility for its actions in Jammu & Kashmir, the Pakistan-centric 313 Brigade does not admit its operations in Pakistan. Till 2007, the responsibility for the attacks on Pakistani army and ISI officers was claimed by organisations with names such as the Islambouli Brigade, the Jundullah etc. After the raid by the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007, the responsibility for many of the attacks on military establishments and personnel has been claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Among the terrorist attacks in Pakistani territory in which the Pakistan-centric 313 Brigade was suspected were:
(a) The two attempts to kill Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December,2003.
(b) The attempts to kill the Corps Commander of Karachi and Shaukat Aziz, the then Finance Minister who had been nominated by Musharraf to take over as the Prime Minister, at Fateh Jang in the Attock constituency of Punjab in 2004. Shaukat Aziz escaped an assassination attempt while he was canvassing a bye-election campsign.
(c) The murder of two officers of the Intelligence Bureau at Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in 2004.
(d) The attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008.The Danish diplomatic staff were functioning from there.
(e) The November 19, 2008,assassination of Maj-Gen Amir Faisal Alvi, who headed the SSG in 2003-2005 before he was removed by Musharraf for unworthy conduct.
Immediately after the attempt on Shaukat Aziz, an Islamic web site had quoted a group calling itself the Islambouli Brigade as claiming that it had targeted one of the men of the "American infidel group in Pakistan". Lt Khaled Islambouli was the leader of the group of soldiers, who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during a military parade in Cairo in 1981.Though the statement did not mention Aziz by name, it was apparent the reference was to him. It said: "One of our blessed battalions tried to hunt a head of one of America’s infidels in Pakistan while he was returning from Fateh Jang, but God wanted him to survive. With this blow, we are delivering a message to the Pakistani government and its head Pervez Musharraf, who is still extraditing the Mujahideen to America to appease it." It accused the person targetted at Fateh Jang of being "a follower of the wicked Bush and his cronies."
"Yesterday’s attack will be followed by more painful blows if you do not stop blindly obeying the orders of that Bush. If you don’t stop, the Mujahideen will wage a bloody war in Pakistan," it added. It said it was giving the Musharraf government a "period of truce" to stop handing over arrested persons to the US, failing which the brigade "will behave in a different way." The statement did not say how long the truce would last, but it warned that its message was "the last warning. "Within the coming few days, our brigade will speak with the language of blood which is the only language you understand," it further warned.
In an interview to the News, the prestigious Pakistani daily, apparently given after the attempt to kill Aziz, the 45-year-old Haji Mohammad Omar, who had succeeded Nek Mohammad as the leader of the pro-Taliban elements in South Waziristan, warned:
"The rulers would not be safe if the Pakistan government with US assistance targets our leaders. We are convinced that commander Nek Muhammad was killed by the US military with the connivance of our own government. The rocket attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps camps and assets in South Waziristan and the resistance being put up by the militants there are largely fuelled by the US military involvement in the so-called campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan. The militants target only those places where US military personnel and spies are stationed. Our men take maximum care not to harm Pakistani soldiers and militiamen."
He alleged that hundreds of US troops and intelligence agents had been secretly deployed in South Waziristan and that US military planes and helicopter gunships were operating in Pakistani territory and air space.
The attack came at a time when there were reports that the so-called 313 Brigade of the International Islamic Front (IIF), as distinguished from the 313 Brigade of the HUJI in J&K, had stepped up its campaign against the Pervez Musharraf government in Pakistan and the Islam Karimov government in Uzbekistan for co-operating with the USA in its war against terrorism.
The attack also come at a time when the Iraqi resistance and foreign jihadi terrorist groups in Iraq had stepped up their campaign against Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for allegedly letting themselves be used by the Bush administration for suppressing the Iraqi people. They were virulently criticising Jehangir Ashraf Qazi, the Pakistani diplomat, for agreeing to work as the UN Representative in Iraq and warning Pakistan against sending its troops to Iraq to protect the UN office.
Two Kashmiris from the POK, who had gone to Iraq to work for a US contractor, were captured by unidentified elements and beheaded as a warning to people in Pakistan not to volunteer to work for US contractors in Iraq. The responsibility for the beheading was claimed in the name of an organisation called the Jaish-e-Islam (Army of Islam).
These attacks followed after a statement issued by Osama bin Laden in 2003 calling Pakistan an apostate State for co-operating with the US and a virulent statement by his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri calling for action against Musharraf. In the meanwhile, the investigation into the two attempts to kill Musharrafr reportedly brought out the involvement of some junior officers of the Army and the Air Force in the conspiracy along with members of the HUJI, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ).
The various reports received during this period indicated that at the instance of Al Qaeda, the IIF had revamped its 313 Brigade by including in it select volunteers from not only the Pakistani jihadi organisations, but also sympathetic military personnel for carrying out reprisal attacks to protest against the Pakistani , co-operation with the US.
After the attacks on Musharraf, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the Amir of the HUJI, ran away from Pakistan. He was arrested by the Dubai Police on August 6,2004, and handed over to the Pakistani authorities. Surprisingly, the Pakistani authorities did not prosecute him just as they did not prosecute Ilyas Kashmiri. They released him after keeping him under informal detention for some months. After the failed attempt to kill her at Karachi on October 17,2007, Benazir Bhutto had named the Qari as the principal suspect. He was again arrested, but released after some weeks without being prosecuted.
The 313 Brigade of the IIF, which has been focussing on attacking Pakistani targets as distinguished from the 313 Brigade in J&K which attacks Indian targets, is a shadowy organisation. Media reports project Ilyas Kashmiri as the head of the 313 Brigade of the IIF. In a press interview, Ilyas himself has sought to give the impression that he heads it. He has been saying that unless the US and its collaborators in Pakistan are defeated, the so-called struggle against India in J&K will not progress. He thus now gives primacy to the jihadi campaign against the US and its alleged collaborators in Pakistan.
Ilyas sees himself as another Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and wants to carry out a spectacular terrorist strike in a Western country. The purpose of his trying to use David Coleman Headley, of Chicago arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Chicago on October 3, 2009, was for an attack on the Danish journal, which carried caricatures of the Prophet in 2005. A perusal of the FBI's affidavit against Headley shows that while Ilyas wanted a Mumbai-26/11 style attack in Copenhagen, Headley felt that a more feasible option would be to assassinate the cartoonist and his Editor.
Where do the statements of the TTP claiming responsibility for attacks on Pakistani military personnel fit in? What is the relationship between the TTP, Ilyas and his 313 Brigade? What happened to the 313 Brigade of J&K? Does it continue its separate existence? Answers to these questions are not available.
The jihadi picture in Pakistan is getting murkier and murkier. Nobody--neither Pakistan's political and military leaders nor the US intelligence agencies and military leadership nor the mushrooming community of terrorism analysts all over the world-- seems to understand what the hell is going on in Pakistan, which is inexorably becoming a country beyond understanding and beyond redemption.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.