Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Army of the Pure in English, is one of the largest and most active Islamic terrorism militant organizations in South Asia, operating mainly from Pakistan. It was founded in 1987 by Hafiz Saeed, Abdullah Azzam and Zafar Iqbal in Afghanistan, with funding from Osama bin Laden. Its headquarters are in Muridke, near Lahore in Punjab province of Pakistan, and the group operates several training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
LeT is influenced by Salafi and Wahhabi interpretations of Islam and follows the Sunni school of thought called Ahle Hadith, which advocates the supremacy of the ummah (the global Muslim community) over any democratic or secular nation-state. Accordingly, as the Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal reports, LeT envisions the restoration of Islamic rule under a caliphate and supports global jihad to see the “flag of Islam” raised in “Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi.”
LeT and its predecessor, Markaz Dawa-wa’l-Irshad (the Center for Call and Guidance), have played a central role in indoctrinating, recruiting, and training thousands of jihadists in Pakistan since the 1980s. LeT is believed to be the only Islamist militant group in Pakistan to have expanded since 9/11.
Originally supported by the Pakistani government, LeT has instigated terrorist attacks in Kashmir and collaborated with other militant groups, such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The group began operating under the name Lashkar-e-Taiba in 1990.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the group expanded its targets to include the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan banned LeT in 2002 due to international pressure. Despite the ban, LeT continues its terrorist operations in the region. The group also provides social services throughout Pakistan via charitable fronts, most prominently Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Some analysts note that Pakistan’s failure to enforce the ban on LeT is intentional since the government benefits from the militant group’s anti-Indian activity. LeT is believed to have committed terrorist attacks in Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir with the support of Pakistani intelligence.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has been accused by India of attacking military and civilian targets in India, most notably the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Its stated objective is to introduce an Islamic state in South Asia and to “liberate” Muslims residing in Indian Kashmir. The organization is banned as a terrorist organization by Pakistan, India, the United States, the United Kingdom the European Union, Russia, and Australia.
When LeT was banned in Pakistan, the political arm of the group, Jamat ud Dawah (JuD), was not initially banned despite its recognition by the UN Security Council as a LeT front. JuD continued to remain un-banned until 2015. However, JuD still continues to work openly as LeT’s charitable wing.
Internationally, LeT is known primarily for committing the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which 166 people were killed in shootings at multiple locations, including in the city’s Taj Hotel. India charged LeT founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and two of his organizations, LeT and JuD, accusing the two of being “virtually interchangeable” and able “to mobilize and orchestrate terrorist activities” readily through JuD’s approximately “2,500 offices and 11 seminaries” across Pakistan.
Pakistan arrested LeT leader and commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi for his involvement in the incident, but Lakhvi was released on bail on April 10, 2015, raising concern that the Pakistani high court’s action will increase tension between Pakistan and India.
In 2005, LeT raised money purportedly to help the Kashmiri victims of a major earthquake. One analyst notes that such fundraising campaigns assisted LeT in becoming financially independent from Pakistani government support, as LeT diverted some of the funds for its own activities. Consequently, LeT has garnered the resources to expand its outreach and social service programs throughout Pakistan. In 2015, for example, LeT launched ambulance services in Karachi.
LeT’s group’s main operations, such as finance, are governed by committees. LeT’s emir, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leads 74 district commanders throughout Pakistan. Saeed has repeatedly stated that he is no longer affiliated with LeT, and only acts as the leader of social services provider JuD. However, the United Nations declared JuD and another organization, the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, to be front groups for LeT in December 2008.*Both groups continue to provide social services in Pakistan despite their U.N. designation as LeT fronts.
LeT’s headquarters in Muridke, Punjab are reportedly self-sustaining. The commune provides housing for its scholars and faculty, as well as schools and medical services. The group even owns a fish farm and agricultural tracts.” According to the Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal, LeT civil operations on a national scale include “16 Islamic institutions, 135 secondary schools, an ambulance service, mobile clinics, blood banks, and several seminaries across Pakistan.”
LeT is funded through global charitable donations, support from the Pakistani government and foreign governments, criminal activities, and tuition payments for its schools. Pakistan—through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, has provided LeT with direct cash payments and counterfeit money. The ISI has also laundered money through hawala (a trust-based money transfer system that pre-dates modern banking) in support of LeT’s anti-Indian activity in Kashmir. Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, including Kuwait, have directly supported LeT through donations. JuD has also traveled to Saudi Arabia to solicit donations for new schools and re-directed those funds to LeT militant activity. After the 2005 Pakistani earthquake, which killed 80,000 people and left more than a million homeless, LeT diverted to its own coffers some donations intended to help the victims. Specifically, a 2006 LeT plot to bomb an airliner was funded by donations at British mosques to JuD charitable activities for the victims of the 2005 earthquake.
LeT has raised funds through crime, including drug trafficking and extortion. This includes a surcharge of approximately 5 rupees on LeT publications to support jihad. LeT has also raised funds through the integration of counterfeit money into its legitimate currency streams and extortion of corrupt officials in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Some analysts speculate LeT could also be making significant sums of money through the narcotics trade, given the large opium harvests in the region.
Examples of LeT’s diverse “legitimate” business network include fish farms, agricultural tracts and mobile clinics. The group also collects ushr (an Islamic land tax) from legal businesses that run on LeT land. LeT appears to be so financially successful that some analysts believe the group may start its own banking system in the future.
LeT is believed to have recruited between 100,000 to 300,000 Pakistani men since the group’s founding. The median age of new recruits is 17. Recruits come primarily from Pakistan, though some join LeT from abroad. Many LeT recruits come from educated backgrounds, in contrast with many assessments regarding the impoverished background of Islamist militants. Many recruits are attracted to LeT’s anti-corruption image. This is significant in Pakistan, where corruption is endemic throughout the country’s civil and political structures. For other recruits, LeT’s mission to alleviate Muslim suffering gives them a sense of purpose that they would not otherwise have.
LeT members are trained in southern Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, and indoctrinated into a separatist worldview that disparages the West, Jews, and India. Up to 75 percent of new members train in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Most LeT fighters train in Pakistan’s Punjab province and do so in three phases. The first phase is called Daura-e-Aama and provides basic training. The second phase is called Daura-e-Suffa and provides religious training. The third phase, Daura-e-Khasa, provides specialty training in guerilla warfare. Other specialized training covers maritime operations, espionage, and sabotage.