- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

SHIKARPUR, Pakistan Ahmad Jan says he has trained hundreds of Islamic militants to fight for independence in the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, where stepped-up violence before India's Independence Day celebrations killed 16 persons and wounded dozens more.

Employing techniques they have learned at his training camps in the Afghan city of Kandahar, the militants use suicide squads to attack military facilities and stage deadly encounters with Indian soldiers, the soft-spoken, 27-year-old explained calmly.

His statements contradict repeated claims from Afghanistan's Taleban rulers, who acknowledge the existence of camps like that where Mr. Jan works, but say they are used only to train fighters for the civil war in northeastern Afghanistan.

Mr. Jan, a black belt in karate who wears his black hair in long strands, said in an interview that he serves alongside his older brother, Ibrahim, as an instructor for Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, one of the main Islamic groups fighting Indian forces in Kashmir, where fighting with Indian forces has claimed 30,000 lives.

The group, which has a few other camps in and around Kandahar, changed its name from Harkat-ul-Ansar after being listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department.

The group was blamed in 1995 for the disappearance of five foreign tourists, including two Americans, who were kidnapped in Kashmir. One was found beheaded and the others are believed to have been murdered.

Mr. Jan denied that his organization had ever kidnapped or murdered foreigners, including American citizens. But even if it has been branded as terrorist, "the juggernaut of Jihad [holy war] cannot be reversed," Mr. Jan said in his hometown of Shikarpur, 250 miles north of Karachi, where he returns occasionally to visit his family.

Thousands of armed police and paramilitary personnel were in place on the streets of the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, yesterday, braced for attacks from groups like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Today is India's Independence Day, traditionally a time for attacks by the Kashmir insurgents.

Kashmir's largest Muslim separatist group, the Hizbul Mujahideen, claimed responsibility for two land-mine attacks on a convoy of buses carrying border guards to Srinigar to help with security. The attacks killed six and wounded 40, 10 of them critically, the Associated Press reported.

Also yesterday, an army foot patrol sighted militants in a remote, mountainous area 160 miles north of Jammu and opened fire on them. An ensuing gunbattle left 10 rebels dead, Maj. Gen. P.P.S. Bindra said. No army casualties were reported.

Mr. Jan said it was the teachings of Islam that led him to join the mujahideen, which sent him for "special task force" training at the Afghan city of Khost. He transferred to the training camp in Kandahar two years ago.

"Training of all kinds including martial arts and sophisticated weapons is being imparted in my camp. I am responsible for martial arts training," he said of his duties.

Mr. Jan maintained that neither the Pakistan government nor the Taleban movement had any role in the running of the camps.

"The Taleban do not have total control in Afghanistan," he said. "The local commanders and people of various cities like Kandahar have accepted the Taleban regime, but [the Taleban] have no authority in the outskirts of Afghanistan."

Asked how the mujahideen was able to travel from Afghanistan across Pakistan to reach Kashmir, Mr. Jan noted with a wide smile that the two countries share a rugged 1,375-mile border.

"The Pakistani government cannot control the border with Afghanistan," he said. "There are various ways to enter Afghanistan without confronting the security forces, although they often do not give us a hard time."

Asked about financing for the training camps, he said there was "no single person or group" who provided the money.

"The whole Pakistani nation is behind us. We do not have any funding problems, the people of Pakistan give us more than generously. I can count a number of people who give hundreds of thousands of rupees every month for the cause of Jihad."

Mr. Jan remained silent for some time when asked about suspicions that some of the money came from the Afghan-based Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, accused of masterminding the bomb attacks that killed 212 persons at two embassies in Africa last year.

"Not exactly," he said. "We do not receive any direct funding from Osama, although we support him and his mission unequivocally." He refused to comment further on the matter.

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