Friday November 13, 2009
INTERVIEW - French magistrate details Lashkar's global role
By Myra MacDonald
PARIS (Reuters) - Pakistan's army once ran training camps for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group with the apparent knowledge of the CIA, an example of complicity that raises questions about the current state of the nuclear-armed nation.
So says former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere, author of a new book that provides rare insight both into alleged past army support for the Lashkar-e-Taiba and to the group's connections to a global network linked to al Qaeda.
The question of Pakistani military support for Islamist militants is crucial for the United States as it tries to work out how to stabilise the country and neighbouring Afghanistan.
Bruguiere bases the information in his book on international terrorism, "Ce que je n'ai pas pu dire" ("What I could not say") on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp in 2001/2002.
In an interview, Bruguiere said he was convinced Lashkar-e-Taiba, first set up to fight India in its part of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, had become part of an international network tied to al Qaeda.
"Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistani movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand violence worldwide," he told Reuters.
He was "very, very anxious about the situation" in Pakistan, where militants are staging a series of bloody urban attacks to avenge a government offensive against their strongholds.
"The problem right now is to know if the Pakistanis have sufficient power to control the situation," he said.
The problem was also "to know if all the members of the military forces and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency) are playing the same game. I am not sure," he added.
Pakistan has long been accused of giving covert support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was blamed for last year's attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. It denies the allegation and has banned the organisation.
NEW FORM OF TERRORISM
Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA).
These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower -- a forerunner of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.
This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures and political objectives.
"After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way," he said.
An early encounter with Lashkar-e-Taiba came while he was investigating shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who tried to set off explosives on a transatlantic flight from Paris in 2001.
This investigation led to a man, who Bruguiere said was the Lashkar-e-Taiba's representative in Paris, and who was suspected of helping Reid -- an accusation he denied. Bruguiere said the link to Reid was not proved in court.
Brigitte, a Frenchman originally from France's Caribbean department of Guadeloupe, had gone to Pakistan shortly after Sept. 11 to try to reach Afghanistan. Unable to make it, he had been sent to a Lashkar centre outside Lahore. A man named Sajid Mir became his handler.
"He quickly understood that Sajid belonged to the regular Pakistan army," wrote Bruguiere.
After 1-1/2 months, he was taken with four other trainees, two British and two Americans, to a Lashkar camp in the hills in Punjab province. The Toyota pick-up which took them there passed through four army check-points without being stopped.
During his 2-1/2 month stay at the camp, Bruguiere says, Brigitte realised the instructors were soldiers on detachment. Military supplies were dropped by army helicopters.
Brigitte said he and other foreigners were forced four times to leave the camp and move further up into the hills to avoid being caught by CIA officers.
They were believed to be checking if Pakistan had kept to a deal under which the Americans turned a blind eye to Lashkar camps in Punjab provided no foreigners were trained there.
In return, Bruguiere said, Pakistan under then president Pervez Musharraf helped track down leaders of al Qaeda.
Western countries were at the time accused by India of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to crack down on militant groups which threatened Western interests.
Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of "home-grown terrorism" in Britain linked to militant groups based in Pakistan's Punjab province.
After leaving the camp accompanied by Sajid, Brigitte was sent back to France.
Sajid then ordered him to fly to Australia where he joined a cell later accused of plotting attacks there. Tipped off by French police, Brigitte was deported from Australia in 2003 and convicted by a French court of links to terrorism.
Bruguiere said he had personally questioned Brigitte in the presence of his lawyer to check his testimony. Information provided by Brigitte was also cross-checked by French police based on mobile phone and e-mail traffic.
Bruguiere went to Pakistan himself in 2006 as part of his investigations into the deaths of 11 Frenchmen in a bombing outside a hotel in Karachi in 2002.
He stepped down as France's best-known counter-terrorism expert in 2007 and now represents the EU on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program in Washington.
(Editing by Bill Maclean and David Stamp)
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