Pakistan militant camps turn out hardened warriors

By Kamran Haider

ISLAMABAD (BestGrowthStock) – If the man charged over the failed New York bombing trained in militant camps in Pakistan, he could have become an indoctrinated, physically fit bomb-maker able to live on only dates and chocolates for long periods, security officials and a former recruit said.

U.S. prosecutors say Faisal Shahzad, 30, the son of a retired Pakistani air vice marshal, has admitted receiving bomb-making training in a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan. A law enforcement source said investigators believed the Pakistani Taliban financed his training, the timing of which is not clear.

Amir, a former Taliban fighter who trained in such a camp, told Reuters the camps turn out disciplined holy warriors.

“Our day used to start before dawn. After morning prayers, we assembled in a courtyard and exercised, jogged and sometimes took part in karate and wall-climbing,” said Amir, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of persecution by former comrades.

“At seven o’clock, we assembled in one of halls where we were given lectures on different things like attacking and defending tactics, first aid and reconnaissance.”

Amir said he also learned how to use weapons.

“They trained us to use all sorts of weapons — Kalashnikovs, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), mortars, bomb-making,” he said.

“We were made to climb up peaks with loads of ammunition and a gun. We had to live either on dates or chocolates. But at the camp we used to have wonderful meals.”

U.S. and Pakistani officials said Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had recently spent five months in U.S. ally Pakistan.

Training camps, usually located in lawless Pashtun tribal areas in mountains near the Afghan border, are likely to have shifted to even more remote locations safe from the reach of the Pakistani army, which has cracked down hard on the Taliban over the past year.

Not all camps are in the northwest, however. Jaish-e-Mohammad, an al Qaeda-linked group, is based in the town of Bahawalpur in Punjab, Pakistan’s heartland province. Police and militant spokesmen deny anything illegal goes on there.

Newcomers to the tribal area training camps receive 5,000 rupees (about $60) a month, a typical laborer’s wage in Pakistan. To help maintain secrecy, the camps train only about 20 recruits each, a Pakistani security official said.

There are no estimates of the number of camps or where they are exactly. India, which complains Pakistan isn’t tackling terrorism, has said there are 42 camps around the country.

Camps are usually small and located in mountainous and difficult-to-spot locations.

“They’re not on the plains, that’s for sure,” said a Pakistani security official.

“They are being run in safer locations like some parts of Orakzai, Khyber, Kurram and North Waziristan,” he said, referring to northwestern Pashtun areas.

Many camps consist only of two classrooms, one of which can be used for bomb-making classes.

“They have a hell of a lot of space in the tribal areas to conduct experiments,” the official said.

Training doesn’t usually happen in one place to avoid detection.

“They don’t have permanent training camps,” another security official said. “They carry out trainings for 10 days at one and then shift to another place. They move in small groups especially in North Waziristan because of drone strikes,” he said, referring to pilotless, missile-firing U.S. aircraft.

Recruitment begins in village mosques, where anti-American messages and calls to jihad against the West are common. In the tribal areas, attending prayers is mandatory, the official said.

“Whoever misses it has to face five lashes,” he said.

Poor parents often hand children over for money, he said. The children are housed in separate, isolated camps.

“Our information is that they are trained for suicide bombings,” the second security official said.

A Pakistani journalist, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, recalled his visit to a training camp two years ago. He said he was not allowed to see a classroom or talk to the children.

“They were 12 or 13 years old,” he said. “They were unbelievably quiet. There were no smiles on their faces and they hesitated to exchange greetings.”

The evenings are filled with messages of hate.

“In the evenings, we used to watch videos of Taliban attacks, as well as brutalities and atrocities against Muslims the world over,” Amir said. “During evening lectures, they glorified the Taliban. They blame infidels, America and the West for all the miseries of Muslims. They called them Satan.”

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(Writing by Chris Allbritton and Michael Georgy; Editing by Paul Tait)

Pakistan militant camps turn out hardened warriors