Taliban find street crime pays

Turn to kidnapping, other acts as funding from abroad slows

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DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan Police caught up with the four Taliban militants about 15 minutes after they robbed the bank, fatally shooting them on a bridge as they attempted to drive their loot to the safety of the border regions with Afghanistan.

The rare triumph against the insurgency in this dangerous part of Pakistan was short-lived - 10 days later, the Taliban dispatched a husband-and-wife suicide unit to avenge the deaths, devastating the local police station and killing nine officers.

The daylight raid on the bank and the bombing in June were carried out by the Black Night group, a unit of the Pakistani Taliban dedicated to raising funds through robberies, kidnappings and extortion, according to a member of the group and intelligence officers.

The group’s emergence highlights a shift in militant funding inside Pakistan, with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups relying less on cash from abroad and more on crime to get money for equipment, weapons and the expenses associated with running an insurgency.

The development is partly a result of Pakistani and American successes in targeting Islamist extremists.

Greater scrutiny on money transfers means it is harder to send funds around the world, while U.S. missile strikes and Pakistani army offensives have killed or sidelined many mid- to top-level commanders who had links to Middle Eastern funding networks, said a counterterrorism official.

As a result, “the militants have issued an internal order telling followers to look for funds from internal sources,” said the counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Iraq, another country riven by Islamist insurgency, has seen a jump in crime in recent years, according to U.S and Iraqi officials. Militants there use profits from crime to finance operations, but former insurgents also are believed to have drifted into crime.

The Pakistani Taliban draws on a network of militants and for-hire criminals that stretches from the country’s northwestern towns, through its Punjab heartland to the commercial capital, Karachi, home to about 4 million Pashtun migrants, the ethnic group that makes up the Taliban.

The crime wave also adds to the militants’ goal of destabilizing the country by underscoring a growing feeling among Pakistanis that the U.S.-backed government is unable to provide enough security for its 180 million mostly impoverished citizens.

Allied with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban across the border, the Pakistani Taliban mostly focus on terrorist attacks inside Pakistan but also are committed to attacking American targets in Afghanistan and the United States. The group trained the Pakistani-American who attempted a car bombing in New York’s Times Square in 2010.

There are few reliable statistics, but the most common ways of raising funds are kidnapping and extortion, according to Amir Rana, an expert on Pakistani militancy. Ransom demands range from about $150,000 to $1 million.

The Taliban are holding in the border region a Swiss couple who were seized in July.

The same group is suspected in the August kidnapping in the city of Lahore of Shahbaz Taseer, the son of a liberal provincial governor who was killed by militants, according to intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

They say Mr. Taseer is being held in Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. Weeks before Mr. Taseer’s kidnapping, U.S. development expert Warren Weinstein was taken from his house in Lahore. His fate is unknown.

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