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Major attack at the heart of Pakistan: how long will Pakistani security forces be able to keep militants from Islamabad?

LNG Industry,

In spite of Pakistan’s best efforts to contain the growing insurgency within its borders, security is still an issue, particularly for foreigners working in the country, who have become targets for the Tehreek-e-Taliban.

Even Islamabad is not free of the violence; despite being one of the most heavily fortified areas in the country, the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Islamabad remains high.

Two foiled attacks in the last month illustrate the fact that the danger of an attack on major cities has not diminished and that the capital remains a target despite its visible security presence and high number of checkpoints.

Police recently found 130 kg of explosives in a van travelling from Peshawar to the nearby garrison town of Rawalpindi. The material was intended for attacks in the capital and nearby Rawalpindi. Later in the month two suicide bomber facilitators were arrested in the capital in F8-1, a wealthy residential neighbourhood. This intelligence success thwarted an operation in its later stages as the two terrorists had suicide bombers apparently primed to attack over bad feeling towards a cleric.

Earlier in the year in April, police foiled a potential attack involving 20kg of explosives and arrested three suspects in the G-9 sector. March 2010 also saw two more facilitators caught in Rawalpindi with suicide vests and weapons in their possession. Their targets were allegedly the diplomatic enclave and Serena Hotel; they also intended to kidnap foreigners.

AKE’s Head of Intelligence, Fraser Bomford, says, “The Tehreek-e-Taliban, or TTP, recently said it has a list of fifteen high-value targets in its sights. Islamabad houses a large expatriate community and it is likely that this group would be targeted. High profile Pakistanis are also at risk; more than a year ago gunmen on a motorcycle killed an army brigadier and his driver in G-11 sector. So these latest foiled attacks are encouraging in the sense that they were prevented, but worrying in the sense that they show attacks in the capital are an ongoing threat”

“Attacks often occur in places of worship frequented by anti-Taliban clerics, religious minorities or security personnel. These usually occur on a Friday when mosques are near capacity. Mosques in Lahore have been targeted throughout 2010, and whilst Islamabad has not suffered a major attack for some time numerous indicators suggest that security forces will not be able to prevent future attacks on these targets and others in the city”.

Considering the volatile security landscape in the country, particularly the almost daily attacks in the northwest of the country, AKE’s latest threat warning might come as no surprise to followers of events in Pakistan. Militants linked to the TTP group have long shown an intent and capability to carry out attacks across the country.

Bomford goes on to say, “When the TTP does not want to take responsibility for attacks, such as when there are high levels of civilian casualties - although not including those belonging to sects who they see as apostate according to their Takfiri outlook – the group frequently blames American influences such as the CIA or Xe (formerly Blackwater) to agitate the population further”.

While evidence had seemed to suggest that militants in the northwest of the country were concentrating on attacks in their heartlands in an effort to entice in security forces and spread discontent before unleashing a wave of attacks, the recent successes of the security forces cannot hide the fact that militants remain intent on carrying out a major attack in the capital.

AKE’s Bomford says, “Personnel living there are well aware of the security threats and should take extra care when visiting high-profile establishments, particularly cafes and restaurants and other “soft” targets. Attacks on buildings associated with the intelligence services (local and foreign) are even more likely, but they are also likely to be better protected from attack. In the event of coordinated and suicide attacks personnel should be particularly wary of secondary blasts, a tactic which militants have employed on numerous occasions in Pakistan in the past. In sum, the risk of attack remains high, and I'd be surprised if security forces are able to prevent all attacks in 2011”.

Author: Fraser Bomford, Head of Intelligence, AKE Ltd.

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