Five years after most senior al-Qaeda leaders are thought to have fled this port city, officials in Karachi worry that the organization is regrouping and finding new support here and in neighboring Afghanistan. They are especially concerned about the recruitment of potential foot soldiers for the next major terrorist attack.
The resurgence has been managed by a South Asian offshoot called al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), created by al-Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in 2014 in order to slow advances by rival Islamic State militants in the region.
Initially, AQIS struggled to gain traction in Pakistan — it has been the principal target of President Obama’s drone-strike strategy in the country’s northwestern tribal belt. But AQIS is now finding its footing in southern Pakistan, powered by fresh recruits and budding alliances with other militant organizations.
“They are making a comeback of sorts,” said Saifullah Mehsud, executive director of the FATA Research Center, which monitors militant groups. “But it’s a different, more localized al-Qaeda.”
After the fall of Afghanistan’s Taliban government in 2001, many al-Qaeda leaders spilled into northwest Pakistan or attempted to blend in in Karachi, a bustling city of more than 20 million residents. A significant number of those core leaders were eventually killed or captured, or fled to the Middle East, officials said.
But the formation of AQIS is again allowing al-Qaeda to tap into Karachi’s wealth and network of madrassas in search of recruits and technical expertise — and sparking deadly clashes with Pakistani security forces.
SOURCE: Tim Craig
The Washington Post