The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ; Urdu: لشکر جھنگوی) or “Army of Jhangvi”, is a Sunni supremacist and jihadist militant organisation based in Pakistan with limited operations in Afghanistan. An offshoot of anti-Shia political party Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the LeJ was founded by former SSP activists Riaz Basra, Malik Ishaq, Akram Lahori, and Ghulam Rasool Shah.
The LeJ has claimed responsibility for various mass casualty attacks against the Shia community in Pakistan, including multiple bombings that killed over 200 Hazara Shias in Quetta in 2013. It has also been linked to the Mominpura Graveyard attack in 1998, the abduction of Daniel Pearl in 2002, and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009. A predominantly Punjabi group, the LeJ has been labelled by Pakistani intelligence officials as one of the country’s most virulent terrorist organisations.
Basra, the first Emir of LeJ, was killed in a police encounter in 2002. He was succeeded by Malik Ishaq, who was also killed, along with Ghulam Rasool Shah, in an encounter in Muzaffargarh in 2015. LeJ was banned by Pakistan in August 2001. The LeJ remains active, and has been designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States and the United Nations.
Yousaf Mansoor Khurasani a.k.a. Syed Safdar Shah (present chief)
Ali Bin Sufyan (spokesperson)
Riaz Basra (dead)
Malik Ishaq (dead)
Akram Lahori (dead)
Ghulam Rasool Shah (dead)
Asif Chotu (dead)
Qari Mohammad Yasin (dead)
Date of operation:
1996 – present
Pakistan and Afghanistan
Active. Designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the European Union, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
LJ has ties to the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), Ahle Sunnat Waljamaat (ASWJ), Al-Qaeda and Jundallah. Investigation found that Al Qaeda has been involved with training of LeJ.
Basra, along with Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaq, separated from Sipah-e-Sahaba and formed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 1996. The newly formed group took its name from Sunni cleric Haq Nawaz Jhangvi who led anti-Shia violence in the 1980s, one of the founders of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). LeJ’s founders believed that the SSP had strayed from Jhangvi’s ideals. Jhangvi was killed in an attack by Shia militants in 1990. Malik Ishaq, the operational chief of LeJ, was released after 14 years by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 14 July 2011, after the Court dropped 34 of the 44 charges against him, involving the killing of around 100 people, and granted him bail in the remaining 10 cases due to lack of evidence. In 2013, Ishaq was arrested at his home in Rahim Yar Khan of the Punjab province.
LeJ initially directed most of its attacks against the Pakistani Shia Muslim community. It also claimed responsibility for the 1997 killing of four U.S. oil workers in Karachi. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attempted to assassinate Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (a Sunni) in 1999. Basra himself was killed in 2002 when an attack he was leading on a Shia settlement near Multan failed. Basra was killed due to the cross-fire between his group and police assisted by armed local Shia residents.
The LeJ differs from many of the other Islamic militant organizations in Pakistan insofar as it shuns media exposure and tries to operate as covertly as possible. Its only outlet to the outside world is occasional faxed messages accepting responsibility for terrorist outrages and through its publication Intiqam-i-Haq and one mostly inactive Telegram channel. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has focused most of its attention on Pakistan’s Shi’a minority and Iranian interests.
Aside from attacks on Pakistani Shi’as, LeJ is also known to have targeted leaders of the Pakistani establishment and western interests. The three most high profile targets of LeJ have been President Pervez Musharraf and two former Prime Ministers of Pakistan— Nawaz Sharif and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. Since 1998, LeJ has been trying to assassinate Sharif without any success; the closest they got was in January 1999 when LeJ militants attempted to blow the bridge on the Lahore-Raiwand road while Sharif was passing. Eid Muhammad, the explosive expert of LeJ, was alleged to have rigged Chaklala Bridge, Rawalpindi, with explosives in an attempt to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf on December 14, 2003. An attack on another former premier, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, was also foiled with the arrest of an LeJ cadre on April 1 2004.
LeJ began to target Western interests in Pakistan after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001. The Taliban was a firm ally of SSP/LeJ and allowed the latter to establish training bases on is territory. LeJ was believed to have been headquartered near Kabul until the collapse of the Taliban. LeJ militants are believed to have been involved in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in early 2002. The LeJ was also behind the bomb attack on May 8, 2002 in Karachi which killed 16 persons, including 12 French nationals. In another attack, near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi on June 14 of that year, 12 persons were killed. At least five of the 10 terrorists identified by the Pakistani government are believed to be LeJ cadres. While there have been reports that al-Qaeda has used LeJ to attack western interests in Pakistan (particularly the ones listed above), there is little reliable evidence pointing to a contemporaneous relationship between the hardcore of al-Qaeda and SSP/LeJ. It seems that al-Qaeda’s access to LeJ was severed after the slaying of Riaz Basra in May 2002. Basra allegedly maintained contact with al-Qaeda commanders through Harakat Ul Ansar (yet another Pakistani Islamic militant organization).
LeJ has forged a strong operational relationship with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). These links were forged in Afghanistan when both organizations were fighting the Northern Alliance on behalf of the Taliban. Further and more recent evidence pointing to a strong relationship emerged form investigations into LeJ’s endeavors to train female suicide bombers to attack the female quarters of Shi’a mosques. Pakistani intelligence reports have allegedly revealed that Aziza, a woman cadre of IMU has been imparting fidayeen training.
In recent years, there has been evidence of an alliance between a faction within Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) chapter, although this alliance has collapsed as of 2018. Among the terrorist attacks that shook Pakistan in 2016, three jointly claimed incidents made clear a faction within LeJ formed an alliance with Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) chapter. While there has been no pledge of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, LeJ al-Alami, a faction of the broader LeJ network, claimed joint responsibility with IS for three mass-casualty attacks, all in Baluchistan province — two in Quetta district and one in Khuzdar district (Geo TV, October 6, 2016). On August 9, a suicide attack in Quetta killed 70 civilians, most of them lawyers, at a legal protest, while an attack on a police college in October saw 60 cadets killed (al-Jazeera, October 25, 2016). In November, a suicide attack on a Sufi shrine in the Khuzdar district of Baluchistan province killed 52 people and injured more than 100 others (Express Tribune, November 13, 2016).
The leader of LeJ al-Alami is Yousaf Mansoor Khurasani (a.k.a. Syed Safdar Shah). Thought to be a resident of Karachi, little is known about Khurasani, although police sources say he was at one point briefly in their custody.
Khurasani previously worked with LeJ’s different factions in Karachi and appears to be a frequent visitor to neighboring Afghanistan, where he has developed links with leaders of other jihadist organizations. He played a pivotal role in organizing and coordinating a meeting of eight different TTP factions in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in November 2016 (Geo TV, November 15, 2016).
Khurasani appears to represent a younger generation of LeJ leaders who have gained prominence as many of the LeJ old guard have either been arrested or killed in encounters with police. The long-standing LeJ chief, Malik Ishaq, was killed in July 2015, along with his two sons and 11 other high-profile leaders, during a firefight with police when gunmen allegedly tried to free him from arrest (Dawn, July 29, 2015). Another high-profile LeJ leader, Usman Kurd, was also shot dead in a police “encounter” in February 2015, while two other LeJ leaders, Asif Chotu and Naeem Bokhari, were arrested and most of the members of their cells killed (News International, February 17, 2015).
The jointly claimed attacks suggested that IS initially did not have the capability to perpetrate acts of terrorism inside Pakistan and therefore relied on LeJ al-Alami’s network on the ground.
In November 2016, Al-Alami spokesman Ali bin Sufyan told Reuters that “wherever there are attacks taking place [in Pakistan] Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami is cooperating with [ISIS] either directly or indirectly.”
In July 2018, a massive suicide attack in Mastung, Balochistan, Pakistan targeted an election-related gathering of Siraj Raisani, a politician from the pro-state Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), which killed 149 and wounded 186 people, essentially becoming one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan’s history. The attack was claimed by Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) chapter. But the suicide bomber, identified by Islamic State’s Amaq Agency as Abu Bakr al-Bakistani, turned out to be a former member of LeJ from Abbottabad named Haq Nawaz.
Although LeJ adheres to the Deobandi school of thought, rather than IS’ Salafi sect, their shared sectarian hatreds proved to be a binding force. IS’ hardline anti-Shia and anti-Sufi stance made it a natural fit for LeJ al-Alami. The group’s alliance with IS, however, was informal. It never pledged allegiance to IS, and LeJ al-Alami was not considered one of the 43 Islamist terrorist organizations that form part of IS’ broader global network of more than 30 wilayat (provinces) (TSG IntelBrief, May 27, 2015; IntelCenter, December 2015).
In December 2016, LeJ (al-Alami) chief Yousaf Mansoor Khurasani survived an assassination attempt in Zabul province of Afghanistan.
In May 2018, Pakistani security forces killed Salman Badeni, head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Balochistan, in an operation in Killi Almas area of Quetta. Badeni was involved in the killing of over 100 members of the Hazara community and police, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan army, said in a statement. One Pakistani military colonel from Military Intelligence was also killed in the gun battle along with a police officer. However, the gun battle was immediately claimed by Islamic State’s Amaq Agency, which said that one military officer and four policemen were killed in the gun battle.
In April 2018, Pakistan Counter-terrorism Department four LeJ militants in an intelligence-based operation. Two of the four militants were highly qualified and had studied from prestigious universities.
In May 2018, an LeJ commander Hafiz Muhammad Ismail was arrested by Pakistani police from Quetta city. He was believed to be involved in various targeted killings in Quetta.
On 25 August 2018, Pakistan Counter-terrorism Department foiled a suicide bombing by arresting Muhammad Safdar, a notorious terrorist of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, along with a suicide jacket and two grenades, from Sargodha.
As of 2018, LeJ/LeJA has lost almost all capability to carry out any major attacks in Pakistan and it mostly relies on small-scale targeted attacks to stay relevant.