Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, killed the home minister of Punjab province in a suicide attack at his home on Aug. 16. The group said the assassination was “revenge” for the killing of Malik Ishaq, the founder and leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who was gunned down by Pakistani police at the end of July.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s spokesman, Ishanullah Ihsan, claimed credit for the suicide bombing that killed Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada and 16 other people in the city of Attock. Pakistani police said that two suicide bombers executed the attack, The Express Tribune reported. The blasts were so large that they caused the home to collapse.
“We accept responsibility of ATTOCK attack Shuja khn zada was killed in the attack,” Ihsan wrote in a series of tweets that were published on his official Twitter account.
Ihsan was clear that the suicide assault was executed to punish the Pakistani government for killing Ishaq, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Ishaq, his two sons, and eight other jihadists were killed a shootout with police after a prison break that took place on July 28.
“The ATTOCK attack is revenge for the martyrdom of malik Ishaq shaheed and other mujahideen brothers,” Ihsan said.
Ihsan also indicated that the attack was executed with the help of another Pakistan-based terrorist group.
“Thanks for cooperation of brother johadi organization,” he wrote, without naming the group. Pakistani police officials told Dawn that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi took credit for the attack.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan routinely executes complex attacks in cooperation with other allied terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In August 2014, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar carried out a complex assault on two airbases in Quetta in Baluchistan province. The assault was executed in conjunction with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the “Mehsud Division,” which is likely the Fedayeen-i-Islam, a terrorist alliance led by Ghalib Mehsud.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is traditionally based in northwestern Pakistan and also has a strong following in Karachi, has demonstrated in the past that it can execute attacks in Punjab province. In November 2014, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar conducted a suicide attack at the Wagah border crossing with India that killed more than 50 people and wounded over 100. The suicide bomber detonated his vest hundreds of yards from the area where Pakistani and Indian border guards put on a daily display of lowering their flags that attracts thousands of people.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar split from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the summer of 2014 after a leadership dispute emerged in the wake of the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the previous emir of the Pakistani Taliban alliance. But Jamaat-ul-Ahrar rejoined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in March 2015. Lashkar-e-Islam, a group based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, also joined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is also known to have integrated key al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leaders into its organization. In May 2014, three jihadist groups, led by Matiur Rehman, Ehsanul Haq, and Muhammad Shamil, merged with the group. Matiur Rehman, who was put in command of all three factions, is a senior al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader. The US Treasury Department described Rehman as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s “chief operational commander” and as “a planning director for al Qaeda” in his 2010 designation.