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Pakistani death squads go after informants to U.S. drone program

The militant group known as Khorasan Mujahedin terrorizes villages near the Afghan border. Tribal elders say most of those killed are innocent.

December 28, 2011|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times

It has counted 64 drone missile attacks in Pakistan this year, compared with 114 last year and 53 in 2009. Current and former U.S. officials say the CIA has decided to temporarily suspend so-called signature strikes — missile attacks against fighters and others whose actions suggest support for the Taliban and other insurgent groups — in an effort to mend relations with Pakistan.

Khorasan Mujahedin operates as a collective, drawing its members from Al Qaeda and North Waziristan militant groups, including the Punjabi Taliban, militants loyal to North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and the Haqqani network. Led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Afghan mujahedin commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Haqqani group is a wing of the Afghan Taliban and regarded as the deadliest threat to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Though the Pakistan army maintains a strong presence in North Waziristan, Khorasan Mujahedin operates virtually unhindered. The Pakistani intelligence official said the military doesn't act against Khorasan because of a peace pact that the government maintains with Bahadur, the North Waziristan Taliban leader.

In September, militants loyal to Bahadur disseminated a pamphlet announcing their disassociation with Khorasan after receiving complaints from tribesmen that Khorasan was kidnapping and executing innocent people.

"We tried time and again to reform [Khorasan Mujahedin] but could not succeed," read the pamphlet, which was signed by Bahadur and other North Waziristan Taliban leaders.

Despite Bahadur's stance, Pakistani security forces have given no indication they plan to act against Khorasan members.

Pakistani intelligence officials say Khorasan Mujahedin has an estimated 250 fighters and has been in existence since late 2009 or early 2010. The group operates like a commando team, swooping in to a village in squads of 40 to 60 and surrounding the area to prevent anyone from escaping. As they whisk away their suspect, one or two militants usually capture the event on video for propaganda purposes.

"They never flee fast," said one North Waziristan tribesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They always leave slowly, and sometimes fire shots into the air as they leave."

The shop owner in Mir Ali, who escaped serious injury and returned home after he was released, told his family he believed he was abducted because two other tribesmen that the militants had kidnapped had been seen spending time at his shop.

All through his detention, he maintained his innocence, the shop owner's relative said. There were moments when his captors were polite, and periods when they beat and kicked him. They videotaped his statement his first day there, then had him record a second statement three days later to see if there were any discrepancies between the two versions.

He had his own cell, the relative said, but could not venture out of it. He could hear other detainees elsewhere in the mud-brick house.

"He couldn't say how many others there were," the relative said. "But often he would hear them scream and cry."

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

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