Profile of a terrorist: Riaz Basra of Sipah-e-Sahaba / Jaish-e-Muhammad / Taliban

Riaz Basra (1967 – 14 May, 2002) was a Pakistani militant involved in sectarian fighting with Shia elements in Pakistan. Basra founded the militant organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 1996.

Riaz Basra was born in Chak Chah Thandiwala, Sargodha, in 1967. He studied at madrassas in Lahore and Sargodha before joining the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba in 1985. Basra allegedly served in the Afghan War on the mujahideen side, receiving a bullet wound in the leg.

Former chief of the Khalid bin Walid Unit of Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan, he was a founder, along with Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaque, of the breakaway Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ; Army of Jhangvi), and became its chief commander until he was killed on May 14, 2002. The LeJ was allegedly created as its founders believed the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) was deviating from the ideals of its slain co-founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, and that these ideals ought to be implemented by force. The basic aim of LeJ, banned since August, 2001, is to impose a Sunni State, primarily through violent means, and it targets systematically Shias.

During the CIA sponsored Afghan jihad against USSR, the former Russian garrison of Rishkhor in the southern suburbs of Kabul was converted into an al-Qaeda training camp. At Kargha and Rishkhor, the likes of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawaheri were frequent visitors and men such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, Saifullah Mansoor and Riaz Basra rubbed shoulders with the chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Djumma Namangani, his deputy Tahir Yuldashev and the Chinese Uighur militant Hasan Mahsun.

An account of Basra’s life and death on BBC Urdu dot com:

For Militant, No Glorified End, but Death in the Dust

Published: May 19, 2002

For the nation’s most feared Islamic militant, no glory was waiting at the end of the road. He was killed in a late-night shootout in this dusty farm village in the blistering plains of south Punjab.

In his 36 years, the militant, Riaz Basra, the head of the dreaded Sunni extremist group Lashkar-i-Jangvi, had led a life brimming with murderous action along with a legend of miraculous escapes.

His activities ranged from a bombing attack against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif three years ago and the murder of an Iranian diplomat in 1990, to multiple jailbreaks and exile. He eventually gained the leadership of a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, in alliance with the Taliban, and fought with the anti-Soviet mujahedeen.

In between, there were the killings of hundreds of doctors, policemen and lawyers from his country’s Shiite Muslim minority, and a notorious Lahore cemetery massacre of 1998 in which 25 Shiite mourners were gunned down and 50 injured as they recited the Koran. He sprinkled his résumé with numerous bank robberies.

Like the Bandit Queen of India, Mr. Basra’s career even included a run for political office, in 1989, when he sought election to the regional assembly of Lahore, but lost.

A simple villager armed with a .22-caliber rifle and a few neighbors with old pump-action rifles and handguns brought down Mr. Basra.

The villager, Fida Hussain Ghalvi, was on guard on top of his house on Tuesday, as he said he was every night since Mr. Basra’s group killed his brother in 1997. He stood guard because he feared that Mr. Basra’s rogues would come back to stop him from testifying in murder cases involving his brother and others.

On this night, the terrorist leader and three comrades approached his home at 3:30 a.m. with AK-47 rifles and rockets launchers, Mr. Ghalvi, 44, said. Mr. Ghalvi, a soft-spoken father of three, said he had no idea the attackers included Mr. Basra, although he knew immediately that it was the Lashkar group. It had come for him several times in the past, killing over 20 villagers here.

”They pulled up to the house in a Suzuki, and when a guy got out and I asked him who he was, they opened fire with Kalashnikovs,” Mr. Ghalvi said. ”I returned the fire from my rooftop, and soon many of the neighbors were firing too. Two of the terrorists fell in the street, and two others broke into my compound. By the grace of God, they died in the exact spot they had slaughtered people here several years ago.”

As he spoke, he was surrounded by visitors who had come to his house to congratulate him; they met in a living room decorated with Islamic art and photographs.

Mr. Ghalvi’s story generally corresponds to the official version of events. A half-hour after the shooting began, a heavily armed special police brigade arrived and finished off the surviving assailants. The authorities say the body was positively identified the next day, and relatives turned out for a funeral today that drew 3,000 mourners to his native village in Sargodha.

The news of Mr. Basra’s death was slow to sink in here because the police have claimed to have killed him many times before, only to reveal later that they had shot the wrong man. In a typical expression of doubt, one newspaper carried a totally straight report of the fatal shootout under the headline ”Basra Killed Again.”

”We have heard many times before that he is dead, but our hearts don’t believe it yet,” said Asim Nadeen, a shopkeeper who sells spices, biscuits and tea in a small town nearby. ”People say he was a real goon, but only God can judge him.”

The death of Mr. Basra is a reminder that in this part of the world terrorism is not limited to Osama bin Laden. Pakistan and its neighbors crawl with groups like Mr. Basra’s Lashkar-i-Jangvi. But they have usually reserved their wrath for fellow Muslims, and have not become well known in the West.

But since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States has urged Pakistan to rein in militant Islamic groups. It has done so, with mixed results, as terror has continued against Americans, including the reporter Daniel Pearl, the 11 French citizens killed by a car bomb in Karachi, and the continuing violence in Kashmir. An attack on an Indian Army camp there this week killed 34.

But many Pakistanis say it is Pakistan’s own intelligence services that have been the most important sponsors of fanaticism.

”This all began when President Zia was facing a challenge from civilian political groups,” said Rashid Ahmad Khan, a former dean of political science at Punjab University, referring to the former president, Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. ”In order to reduce their influence, he decided to split the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, and began sponsoring these groups. Many of them were sent to training camps in Afghanistan, and when they came back it was to sow terror and sabotage in Pakistan.”

Sardar Nur Ahmad Khan, a lawyer and former president of the regional bar, said, ”Poor men like Riaz Basra are recruited from the religious schools and turned into terrorists, and the result is panic for all of us.”

For Mr. Ghalvi, the killing of Mr. Basra has only increased his turmoil. ”I can’t even go outside,” he said. ”They will come again because I have killed their leader, but I don’t regret avenging my brother. In fact, I thank God that he made me an instrument for such a deed.”



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