Home > Sleeper cells awaken: Militants find breeding grounds in universities

Sleeper cells awaken: Militants find breeding grounds in universities

SZABIS­T profes­sor Owais Raheel was just one member of a large group active­ly recrui­ting in univer­sities­

Owais Raheel. PHOTO: FILE

Owais Raheel. PHOTO: FILE


The arrest of Szabist professor Muhammad Owais Raheel for his alleged links with a banned terror outfit sent shockwaves among the academia in Karachi.

But if one is to assume this was an isolated case, it would be far from the truth. Contrary to popular perception, these ideologues have found the perfect breeding ground to spread their ideas in reputable institutions of higher learning, police investigators have learnt.

Raheel, a graduate of the NED University of Engineering and Technology and an MBA from the Institute of Business Management (IBA) was allegedly recruiting young men for the Hizbut Tahrir (HuT), a banned terror outfit. His arrest was disclosed by the Counter-Terror Department incharge, Mazhar Mashwani, at a press conference on October 6. Mashwani claimed to have arrested Raheel from Boat Basin, with a large number of pamphlets HuT literature.

According to investigators, Raheel has confessed to have been affiliated with HuT since 2007. He is currently in the CTD’s custody for 90 days. “We are obtaining vital information from him that cannot be shared for obvious reasons,” said the investigation officer, Sohail, while speaking to The Express Tribune.


Another official privy to the investigations revealed that Raheel was part of a well-organised group. “There are a number of such groups operating in the city,” he claimed. “Each group comprises four to six members. The troubling bit is that no member of the group even knows the identity of the other members, nor do they know how many such groups are operating in the city or the rest of the country,” added Sohail. “These outfits employ the same modus operandi as the Jundullah and the group responsible for the Safoora bus carnage.”

Speaking about Raheel’s affiliation with HuT, the investigators claimed he joined the organisation during his time at NED university. “While he was a student at NED, he was approached by some militants during lunch hours,” explained an officer. “The men convinced him and others to meet at a teashop near Maskan Chowrangi where they brainwashed him and others, finally convincing them to work for HuT.”

Raheel, though a resident of Gulistan-e-Jauhar, was tasked to distribute the organisation’s literature in mosques located in Defence and Clifton. The group stayed in touch through a communications software, ‘Viber’ and had been active for the last six months.

“Our high command had ordered us not to even inquire into the identity of the other members of the group and solely focus on the job at hand,” said the officer, while quoting Raheel. “We believe that a number of this organisation’s members are highly educated and are actively recruiting educated youth from well-reputed educational institutions.”


Meanwhile, Raheel’s wife, Noorulain Owais, came out to defend her husband. She published a blog on The Express Tribune’s website, dismissing all the allegations against her husband.  “I was in complete shock. They were leveling false allegations against him and creating one fake story after another,” she wrote. The police officials say they have reason to believe otherwise.

Déjà vu

Karachi has seen its fair share of ‘educated’ militants by now. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, a member of the al Qaeda Council and the outfit’s media director definitely tops the list. Muhammad was a graduate from a US university. He is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attack and the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi.

Another example is Moeed Abdul Salam, a key al Qaeda operative, who graduated from one of the most reputed universities in the United States. Salam blew himself up during a paramilitary raid at his residential apartment in Gulistan-e-Jauhar in November 2011.

Two engineers, who were toppers from a Jamshoro university and were believed to be working for the Islamic State (IS), were killed when an intelligence agency, along with the paramilitary force, conducted a raid at their residential apartment in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. An intelligence official was also killed in the raid in August, earlier this year.

Perhaps the biggest such example was that of IBA graduate Saad Aziz and his gang members who were working for the IS. The recent arrest of the two young men by the Counter-Terrorism Department who were deported by Iran while on the way to Syria to join the IS forces was another shocker.

Investigators believe the militants are actively recruiting the educated youth of Karachi. What is missing is the government’s initiative to counter their efforts.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2015.

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