updated 10/19/2007 11:22:49 PM ET 2007-10-20T03:22:49

Some are al-Qaida, some are Taliban and others are homegrown. But all of Pakistan’s militants share a vision and unshakable beliefs that include a ban on a woman leading the nation and opposition to a close alliance with America.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto blamed al-Qaida and Taliban militants for Thursday’s deadly suicide bombing that killed scores in Karachi during a procession to mark her homecoming after eight years in self-imposed exile.

The attack came as Pakistan’s government is struggling to contain a rising Islamic militancy in the lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan. Violence linked to militants has killed more than 1,000 people in a little over three months — most in the restive tribal belt on the border.

The self-declared standardbearers of Islam have also rampaged through the region bombing girls schools, threatening female teachers and even beheading two women they charged with prostitution. They have burned down music and CD shops and threatened barbers with violence if they trimmed beards. In some areas, they have even set up their own police forces.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has vacillated in the past between blistering military attacks on the militants and negotiating peace deals with them. The deals struck in 2005 and 2006 have been blamed for a reconstituted al-Qaida in the region and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

Hard-liner anger against Musharraf surged this summer when the army raided a pro-Taliban mosque in Islamabad, leaving more than 100 people dead. Militants launched suicide bombings and other attacks in response, causing the government to deploy thousands of troops to the northwestern tribal regions.

Revenge attack
Militants contacted by The Associated Press in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province Friday called Thursday’s suicide attack revenge for the Pakistani military operations in the area and the support Bhutto and Musharraf have offered the United States in its fight against terrorism.

Mahmoud Al Hasan, a leader of Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, a militant group aligned to Pakistan’s religious Jamaat-e-Islami party, condemned the bombing because of the civilians who were killed, but attacked both Bhutto and Musharraf as “slaves” of the United States.

He castigated Bhutto for her comments against extremism and her recent statement that she would accept U.S. assistance in targeting Osama bin Laden if he is found on Pakistani territory.

“Benazir Bhutto was totally talking like an infidel. What should be the reaction of jihadis? They should definitely kill her. She is an enemy of Islam. She is an enemy of jihadis. She is an enemy of the country. This is the reaction,” said Al Hasan. “If it had killed only Benazir Bhutto then it would have been OK.”

A businessman in the northwestern city of Peshawar who finances militant groups said the attack against Bhutto was well-coordinated and planned. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested by authorities, said there are hundreds of would-be bombers in Pakistan who are ready to blow themselves up in such attacks.

He said they find sanctuary in the tribal regions along the Afghan border where like-minded tribesmen under the Taliban banner hold sway.

Suicide squads
One of the warlords in this region, Baitullah Mehsud, threatened earlier this month to meet Bhutto’s return to Pakistan with suicide attacks, according to local media reports.

Mehsud, who has denied responsibility in Thursday’s attack, has bragged of having 3,000 would-be suicide bombers. His suicide squads have taken credit for attacks against the military and police in northwestern Pakistan, as well as bombings at a hotel in the capital of Islamabad that killed a security guard and at the Islamabad international airport.

Mehsud, whose tribe of the same name is the most violent in South Waziristan province, signed a peace pact with the army in February 2005 promising to deny shelter to foreign al-Qaida fighters in exchange for an end to military operations in the region and compensation for tribesmen killed by the military.

Then Mehsud’s men kidnapped 250 Pakistani soldiers in August, who they are still holding. Three of the soldiers have been beheaded.

Similar deals in other parts of Pakistan’s tribal region have been signed and broken.

Government sympathizers help militants?
Although Musharraf’s government has stepped up military operations against insurgents in the tribal regions in recent months, some militants claim to have support within government structures, including the army and intelligence agencies.

Bhutto alluded to as much Friday, saying it was suspicious that streetlights failed after sunset Thursday when her convoy was inching its way through the streets of Karachi. She said the phones were down, making it difficult to have the lights restored.

“I’m not accusing the government but certain individuals who abuse their positions and powers,” she said.

The militants contacted by the AP Friday refused to say whether they suspected Pakistan’s intelligence agencies or military of involvement in the attack on Bhutto. But they said sympathizers within government structures do indeed help suicide bombers.

“In the Pakistani (secret) agencies and in the army there are so many people who are not secular, who are fundamentalists and will help a suicide bomber to carry out his job,” said Saifullah, a former district leader of Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen. Saifullah uses just one name.

Several senior al-Qaida operatives have been arrested in homes owned or occupied by members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which was part of a six-party religious alliance that governed North West Frontier Province until the parliament was dissolved earlier this month.

Several militant groups have also been linked to Pakistan’s secret service, including Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Harakat-ul-Islam and Jaish-ul Mohammed. Pakistan has outlawed some of the groups but allowed them to resurface under other names.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was banned in 2002 but reconstituted as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which was outlawed as a terrorist group by the United States. Pakistan, however, has refused to ban it.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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