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A journey into the Lashkar

Praveen Swami

Iman’s story shows it preys on the most vulnerable poor

MUMBAI: It is improbable that Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman’s family has seen the photograph that has made his face known across the world.

Hours before he began firing at commuters waiting at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) last week, Iman, one of ten Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, was caught on closed-circuit camera.

After he and his partner, Mohammad Ismail, had killed 55 commuters at CST and three senior police officers, including Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Chief Hemant Karkare, Iman was injured and captured — and the story he has since been telling Mumbai police investigators casts new light on how the feared terror group preys on the most vulnerable in Pakistani society to further its agenda of hate.

The man in the photo was born on July 13, 1987 at Faridkot village in Dipalpur tehsil of Okara district in Pakistan’s Punjab province. His family belongs to the underprivileged Qasai caste. His father, Mohammad Amir Iman, runs a dahi-puri snack cart. His mother, Noori Tai, is a homemaker.

Iman is the third of the family’s five children. His 25-year-old brother, Afzal, lives near the Yadgar Minar in Lahore. His sister, Rukaiyya Husain, 22, is married locally. Iman’s younger siblings, 14-year-old Suraiyya and 11-year-old Munir, live at home.

Iman’s desperately poor family could not afford to keep their second son, an indifferent student, at the Government Primary School in Faridkot past the fourth grade. He was pulled out of school in 2000, at the age of 13, and went to live with his older brother in Lahore. Afzal, who lives in a tenement near the Yadgar Minar in Lahore, eked out a living on a labourer’s wages, and could barely afford to look after his brother. For the next several years, Iman shuttled between the homes of his brother and parents.

Adrift

After a row with his parents in 2005, Iman left home, determined never to return. No longer welcome in Afzal’s home, he stayed at the shrine of the saint Syed Ali Hajveri until he could pick up some work. He began working as a labourer and by 2007 his work brought in Rs. 200 a day. Iman, however, found the work degrading. He soon began spending time with small-time criminals in Lahore. Along with a friend, a one-time Attock resident named Muzaffar Lal Khan, Iman decided to launch a new career in armed robbery.

On Bakr Eid day in 2007, Iman has told the Mumbai Police, the two men made their way to the Raja bazaar in Rawalpindi, hoping to purchase weapons. In the market, they saw activists for the Jamaat-ud-Dawa — the parent political organisation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba — handing out pamphlets and posters about the organisation and its activities. After a discussion lasting a few minutes, Iman claims, both men decided to join — not because of their Islamist convictions but in the hope that the jihad training they would receive would further their future life in crime.

A life in Lashkar

But at the Lashkar’s base camp, Markaz Taiba, Iman’s world view began to change. Films on India’s purported atrocities in Kashmir, and fiery lectures by preachers, including Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, led him to believe that the Lashkar’s cause — the greater glory of Islam, as the organisation presented it — was worth giving his life to. It is possible, an official involved in the interrogation suggested, that the atmosphere of the camp gave him the sense of family he had lacked for much of his life.

When he returned home for a two-month break after his indoctrination at the Lashkar base camp, he found a respectability within his community and family that had eluded him most of his life. Where Iman had earlier been seen as a burden, he was now self-sufficient — and bore the halo of religious piety.

Later that year, Iman was chosen for the Lashkar’s basic combat course, the Daura Aam. He performed well and was among a small group of 32 men selected to undergo advanced training at a camp near Manshera, a course the organisation calls the Daura Khaas. Finally, he was among an even smaller group selected for specialised marine commando and navigation training given to the fidayeen unit selected to target Mumbai.

According to Iman, Lashkar military commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi promised that his family would be rewarded with Rs. 1.5 lakh for his sacrifice.

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