- Associated Press - Thursday, July 1, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistani authorities now believe a dangerous new militant group, out to avenge a deadly army assault on a mosque in Islamabad three years ago, has carried out several major bombings in the capital previously blamed on the Taliban.

The emergence of the Ghazi Force was part of the outrage among many deeply religious Pakistani Muslims over the July 2007 attack by security forces against the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, a stronghold of Islamic militants.

The fierce attack, in which scores of young, heavily armed religious students died, inspired a new generation of militants. These Pakistanis have turned against a government they feel has betrayed them and, to the militants’ dismay, backed the U.S. role in neighboring Afghanistan.

The brief but bloody history of the Ghazi Force illustrates the unintended consequences of Pakistan’s policy of promoting Islamic extremists to fight India in the disputed area of Kashmir.


That policy - which Pakistan denies it pursues - now threatens regional stability as the U.S. and Pakistan’s other Western partners invest billions of dollars in the country to stop the rise of Islamic militancy.

The new group is made up of relatives of students who died in the Red Mosque assault. It is named after the students’ leader, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed. The mosque’s adjacent religious school, or madrassa, had been a sanctuary for militants opposed to Pakistan’s support of the U.S.-run war in Afghanistan.

Private television stations broadcast vivid scenes of the assault - commandos in black fatigues rappelling down ropes, the crackle of gunfire, bodies of black-shrouded girls carried out through the smoldering gates. Those images stunned the nation, especially families of the students and Pakistanis with deep religious feelings.

Islamabad’s inspector general of police, Kalim Imam, told the Associated Press that the Ghazi Force was behind most of the deadliest attacks in the capital during the past three years. The attacks targeted the military, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency or ISI - which had ties to a number of militants - and a five-star hotel frequented by foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The Ghazi Force helped recruit a security official who blew himself up inside the office of the World Food Program last October, killing five people, according to Mr. Imam. The force also sent a suicide bomber in September 2007 into the mess hall of the commando unit that attacked the Red Mosque, killing 22 people, he said.

Ghazi Force members also may have been involved in the audacious June 9 attack north of the capital that took the lives of seven people and destroyed 60 vehicles ferrying supplies to NATO and U.S. soldiers next door in Afghanistan, Mr. Imam said.

Many of those attacks had been attributed to the Pakistani Taliban, which operates in the remote tribal areas of the northwest along the border with Afghanistan. There is evidence of close ties between the Ghazi Force and the Pakistani Taliban, which the government has vowed to crush.

The Ghazi Force is believed to be headquartered in the Orakzai region of the border area, where the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, held sway for years. The leader of the Ghazi Force is believed to be Maulana Niaz Raheem, a former student at the Red Mosque.