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On fourth Mumbai attack anniversary, LeT revives Muridke convention
Wilson John
06 November 2012

Four days before the fourth anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) is planning a two-day training convention at Muridke near Lahore. The convention, called the Tarbiyati Nashist 2012, will be held on November 22-23 at the former headquarters of the terrorist group from where the Mumbai attack was planned and executed.

Although the convention is being projected as a 'training workshop', it is a decisive move by the terrorist group to reopen its main operating base shut down following the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Part of the maritime training for the Mumbai attackers was held in the sprawling complex which houses several educational as well as charity wings of the terrorist group.

Annual conventions at Muridke were an integral part of the terrorist group's calendar prior to 9/11. These two-day conventions attracted several thousand followers and cadres of the group from different parts of Pakistan as well as other countries. The convention functioned as the group's show of strength and as a platform for recruitment and fund raising. Patrons of the convention included al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, nuclear scientist AQ Khan and former ISI chief Hamid Gul. On many occasions, bin Laden's speeches were played to the audience. At least during one convention, bin Laden addressed the gathering through satellite phone.

The convention attracted several thousand men and women from different parts of Pakistan. The area in and around Muridke was secured by armed LeT cadres.

The resumption of the Muridke convention this year shows the growing clout of the terrorist group and the support of its patrons in Pakistan Army.

After lying low for almost three years after the Mumbai attacks, the terrorist group has been making a strong comeback with public rallies and statements made by LeT chief Hafiz Saeed and his close coterie members. Saeed, the principle accused in the Mumbai attacks, has been addressing rallies and meetings at different places this year. He has been in the forefront of agitations against Drone attacks, the Salala incident, the attack on the young Swat girl Malala this October and the anti-Prophet film.

Saeed's comeback vehicle has been Difa-e-Pakistan, an umbrella group of extremist and terrorist groups patched together by the Army to create an alternative political platform to the mainstream political parties. Saeed is the leader of the group which has, among others, leaders of rabidly sunni group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and terrorist groups like Harkat-ul Mujahideen. Former ISI chief Hamid Gul is one of the senior functionaries of the group.

Using the cover of Difa-e-Pakistan, Saeed, despite the $10 million bounty announced by the US early this year, has been restructuring the terrorist group. The group today is busy reviving many of its 2500-odd centres it once ran across Pakistan. District level units of the terrorist group has been revived and are functioning are select senior leaders of the group. Of these units, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Faisalabad units are working in tandem to revive the group's infrastructure.

The Rawalpindi unit is headed by Maulana Abu Hamza, a close confidante of Hafiz Saeed and editor of the terrorist group's flagship journal, Ghazwa. He also heads a proxy group run by the terrorist group, Tahreek e Hurmat e Rasool. Hamza, one of the founding members of LeT, is currently heading the terrorist training camps located in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. LeT has been training its cadres at Dulai near Muzaffarabad since February 2009. The terrorist group's main training campus was at Baitul Mujahideen before the Mumbai attack. The campus was run by LeT operational commander, Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi. Lakhvi is at present in a Rawalpindi prison.

The group has also revived its fund raising network within Pakistan. During the recent Eid, the terrorist group managed to set up about 20 outlets in Lahore itself to gather hides and other donations despite the federal government's ban on such activities by banned groups. In fact, Hafiz Saeed had approached the Lahore High Court against the ban but the court refused to entertain his plea. In clear defiance of the government as well as the court orders, the terrorist group collected animal hides and other donations in several towns in Punjab, including the capital city Islamabad.

In the open market, the hides can fetch Rs 500 for a sheep skin, Rs 4000 for a cow hide and Rs 5000 for a camel skin. The exact amount of the donations is not yet known but going by the posters and postings carried on several of the terrorist group's Facebook accounts and blogs the amount may run into a few crores. A few years ago, the group had collected Rs 710 million worth of animal hide.

Another source of funding activated by the group is its other charity wings, the most prominent being Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. The charity wing sought Rs 12000 for a goat and Rs 52000 for a cow from potential donors as part of Eid collections. The charity also draws in some parts of the annual zakat donated by Pakistanis. An estimated Rs 10 billion is donated as zakat in Pakistan every year.

(Wilson John is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)