Police in Pakistan killed one of the country’s most feared militant leaders along with his two sons and 11 followers in a shootout early Wednesday.
Malik Ishaq, 56, was killed when militant allies attacked police who were holding him in southern Punjab province, authorities said. He was the founding member and supreme leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an Al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim group that had terrorized Pakistan’s minority Shiite population for years.
The organization was blamed for attacking Pakistani and U.S. interests, and also was accused of carrying out attacks in Afghanistan.
Ishaq admitted his involvement in the violent deaths of more than 100 Shiite Muslims.
In 2002, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attacked a church during a service in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, killing five people, including a U.S. diplomat’s wife and daughter. In 2014, the State Department designated the group as a terrorist organization, and Malik as a global terrorist.
A Punjab police spokesperson said Ishaq and his sons were arrested by the police Counter-Terrorism Department a week ago because of their alleged involvement of the killing of seven Shiite Muslims in southern Punjab Province.
The spokesperson, who declined to be identified, said that early Wednesday, as officers tried to transfer Ishaq along with his associates from a jail in Multan, the major city in southern Punjab, a group of militants ambushed the police convoy in an attempt to free him.
“Fourteen suspected militants, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief, were killed in the ensuing gun battle,” the police spokesman said. “His two sons and close aide Ghulam Rasool were also killed. Six police officials were also injured in the incident.”
Ishaq was arrested in 1997 and implicated in dozens of cases. But after serving nearly 14 years in jail, he was released on bail in July 2011 without ever having been convicted of any crime.
Violence against Shiite Muslims increased substantially after his release.
He was again arrested in 2013 after more than 170 Shiites belonging to the Hazara ethnic community in Quetta were killed in two different attacks. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for both attacks. He remained in custody for most of the time after those attacks.
The Afghan government blamed Laskhar-e-Jhangvi for the deaths of 59 Shiite Muslims in a bomb attack in Kabul in December 2011.
Security analysts predicted that the group might retaliate for Ishaq’s death by attacking Shiite Muslims throughout the country.
Lashkar-e-Jangvi “has a presence in some parts of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan provinces and it could retaliate by attacking Shiite Muslims and security forces in those areas,” said Amir Rana, head of the Islamabad-based Pak Institute of Peace Studies. However, he added, “This is a major blow to the organization and it is not in a position to attack U.S. interests in Pakistan.”
A Lahore-based senior police official who interrogated Ishaq multiple times described him as a callous terrorist.
“He used to take pride in killing innocent people,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a security issue. “He was one who laid the foundation of violent sectarian extremism in country. His killing is very significant.”
Sahi is a special correspondent.