- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Reports that Egyptian authorities are seeking five Pakistani nationals in connection with the deadly Sharm el Sheik bombings on Saturday have focused fresh attention on the South Asian nation’s ties to Islamic terrorism networks.

The Egypt attacks come close on the heels of the July 7 London subway suicide blasts, in which three of the four bombers were of Pakistani descent. Officials in London and Islamabad say at least two of the bombers made trips to Pakistan just months before the bombings.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials also have complained repeatedly that fighters from the ousted Taliban regime are finding sanctuary and support across the Pakistani border.

“The pressure was on the Pakistanis before. All this does is increase the pressure,” said Stephen Ulph, editor of the Terrorism Security Monitor and a security analyst for the London-based Jane’s Information Group.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other top officials in Islamabad say their overwhelmingly Muslim nation has not gotten the credit it deserves in taking on al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups.

“We have shattered and eliminated [al Qaeda’s] command system. We attack them when we see them in the mountains,” Gen. Musharraf told journalists during a visit to Lahore yesterday.

“Is it possible in this situation that an al Qaeda man sitting here, no matter who he is, can control things in London, Sharm el Sheik, Istanbul or Africa? This is absolutely wrong,” he added.

But K.P.S. Gill, president of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management and publisher of the South Asia Intelligence Review, said al Qaeda is not Pakistan’s only terrorist problem.

“A large number of other [Islamic] terrorist groups continue to operate with impunity, though formal bans have been imposed on some of these under U.S. and international pressure,” he said in an e-mail yesterday.

Mr. Gill and others point to thousands of Islamic religious schools, known as madrassas, that teach radical anti-Western ideas and say the Musharraf government has had only limited success in regulating them.

“Given this general situation — whether al Qaeda or any of the various other existing terrorist organizations survive — the ‘supply’ of radicalized Islamists, of terrorists and suicide bombers from Pakistan, both within the country and abroad, will continue for a long time to come,” he said.

With major Islamist parties now the largest opposition bloc in Parliament, Gen. Musharraf must walk a fine line between foreign criticism of Pakistan’s anti-terror record and domestic forces, Mr. Ulph said.

“It’s a volatile mix,” he said. “Musharraf has only limited room to maneuver.”

An April analysis by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said Pakistan’s government was trying to co-opt extremist groups at home rather than confront them, hurting democratic institutions in the process.

“The government has allowed religious extremist organizations and jihadi groups — and the madrassas that provide them an endless stream of recruits — to flourish,” the advocacy group said.

Investigators think two of the four London bombers, Shahzad Tanweer and Mohammed Siddiq Khan, in the winter visited Karachi, a city where al Qaeda and other extremists groups have operated.

Pakistani press reports say Tanweer spent at least some of his time in a Lahore Islamic school and made a trip last year to meet with a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed, another violent Islamic organization.

Even as he denied that Pakistan is a hub of international terror, Gen. Musharraf in recent days has acted against Islamic militants, arresting nearly 300 suspects and demanding that all madrassas be registered with the government by December.

Touqir Hussain, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, rejected the idea that recent events show Pakistan is becoming a hub for international terrorism.

“They don’t have any proof the Egypt bombers were in fact Pakistanis,” Mr. Hussain said. “Egypt has its own problems with extremists and terrorists” dating to the time of President Anwar Sadat, assassinated in 1981.

As for the London bombers, Mr. Hussain said, “A few visits to Pakistan doesn’t make one a terrorist.”

• Betsy Pisik in New York and Raza Naqvi in Washington contributed to this report.

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