ISLAMABAD: (The News) While Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan has said the murder of Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada was still a “blind case” and there had been no “breakthrough” in it so far, those investigating the suicide attack that killed Khanzada believe it was an open and shut case as the bombing was masterminded by the TTP-JUA-LEJ combine to avenge the July 29, 2015 killing of the LEJ chief Malik Mohammad Ishaq in a police encounter.
Addressing a press conference at the Punjab House in Islamabad on Sunday, Ch Nisar Ali Khan refuted media reports about the arrests made by security agencies in different parts of the country in connection with the August 16 suicide attack on Shuja Khanzada in Attock which had killed 22 people. “I am surprised to see kite flying in media which should refrain from reporting in irresponsible manner which could affect investigations. This is a blind murder case. There has been sufficient progress in the investigations, but no breakthrough so far”, the interior minister said.
On the other hand, a senior security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed surprise over Ch Nisar Ali Khan’s statement, adding that those investigating the Attock bombing are pretty sure that it was orchestrated by TTP-JUA-LEJ combine which had been responsible for a host of bloody terrorist attacks in the past, including suicide bombings.
The senior security official reminded that both the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahraar (TTP-JUA) had claimed responsibility for Shuja Khanzada’s assassination, stating that it was in retaliation for the killing of the LEJ leader Malik Ishaq.
And subsequent investigations proved that the lethal bombing was a coordinated operation by the TTP-JUA-LEJ combine. But he regretted that the First-Information Report (FIR) of Khanzada’s murder had been filed on behalf of the state against “unidentified attackers”.
While the LEJ had claimed responsibility for the suicide attack the same day, (August 16), the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahraar (TTP-JUA) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had tweeted the next day (August 17) that the assassination was revenge for the killing of Malik Ishaq, who was gunned down in a police encounter on July 29, 2015 in Muzaffargarh. “We accept responsibility for the Attock suicide bombing which killed Shuja Khanzada,” Ehsanullah wrote in a series of tweets that were published on his official Twitter account. Ehsan was clear that the suicide assault was executed to punish the Pakistani government for killing Malik Mohammad Ishaq, his two sons, and eight LEJ commanders in a shootout with police after an alleged prison break that took place on July 28, 2015.
Shuja Khanzada was martyred at his Dera (residence) in Shadi Khan in district Attock 18 days after Malik Ishaq’s killing. At the time of his assassination, he was considered to be a key player in the province’s fight against terrorism. Khanzada had declared the killing of Malik Ishaq a part of the National Action Plan against terrorism, though he was supposedly killed in an encounter while trying to escape from police custody. The agencies had warned of a serious backlash by the militants in the aftermath of Ishaq’s killing besides launching a renewed hunt to capture the most wanted chief operational commander of the LEJ, Matiur Rehman alias Abdul Samad Sial. But before the agencies could nab him, Matiur was able to despatch two human bombs to Attock who exploded themselves and killed Khanzada.
The consequent responsibility claim tweeted by the TTP-JUA spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said: “The Attock attack is revenge for the killing of Malik Ishaq and several other mujahideen brothers, thanks to the assistance of a brother jehadi organization”, indicating thereby that the attack was executed with the help of another terrorist group which the investigating agencies believe was none other than the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The Pakistani Taliban routinely carry out coordinated terror attacks in cooperation with other allied terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Exactly a year ago, in August 2014, the TTP Jamaatul Ahraar had carried out a ferocious assault on two airbases in Quetta while working in tandem with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Fidayeen-e-Islam (FEI) led by Ghalib Mehsud.
The TTP Jamaatul Ahraar is led by the Nangarhar-based Pakistani Taliban Commander Omar Khalid Khorasani who was responsible for beheading around two dozen jawans of the Frontier Corps last year. The Jamaatul Ahraar is the same Taliban group which had created havoc in Lahore by carrying out several deadly suicide bombings in the provincial metropolis of Punjab in the recent past with the help of its covert support system, killing 85 innocent people.
The TTP-JUA claimed responsibility for the March 15, 2015 twin suicide bombings, targeting two churches which had killed 15 people in the Youhana Abad area of Lahore, the November 5, 2014 suicide bombing at the Wagah border post that killed 65 people and the February 17, 2015 suicide attack outside the main gate of the Police Lines near the Railway Headquarter in Lahore which killed five people.
The anti-Shia Jamaatul Ahraar split from the Fazlullah-led Taliban in the summer of 2014 after a leadership dispute emerged in the wake of the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud. However, Khorasani decided to rejoin the TTP a few months later – in March 2015. According to US-based news website The Long War Journal, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is known to have integrated key al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leaders into its organization. In May 2015, three jehadi groups, led by Commander Matiur Rehman, Ehsanul Haq, and Muhammad Shamil, merged with the TTP led by Mullah Fazlullah.
Matiur Rehman, who was put in command of all three factions, was assigned with the task of killing some senior government figures from Punjab to avenge the assassination of Malik Ishaq. Hardly a few months before his killing, Malik Ishaq was also the vice president of the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) which was previously called Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). But Ishaq parted ways with the ASWJ after developing some serious differences with Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the ASWJ president, who had played a vital role in his release from jail in 2011 under an alleged peace deal with the Punjab government.