On April 17, 2017, Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) revealed in a press briefing that head of Jamat-ul-Ahrar’s media commission and former spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has surrendered before Pakistan Army. Ehsan was previously spokesman of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan before Shahidullah Shahid (late) had replaced him. Surrender of Ehsanullah is apparently a big blow to Jamat-ul-Ahrar as he was one of the top leaders of the group. Jamat-ul-Ahrar had posted his statement on its Telegram Channel just a day before his surrender was revealed by DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor on Monday. In the statement Ehsanullah Ehsan congratulated Asad Mansoor, the new spokesman of Jamat-ul-Ahrar and said that Asad has vast experience of handling media and will do well for the organization. Ehsan was over all in charge of the media commission of the group.
Surrender of Ehsan sent shockwaves in the social media channels of militant groups. Jamat-ul-Ahrar removed his statement immediately from social media accounts and seemed mummed with the news. Few days before surrender of Ehsan, eight other members of the group had also surrendered to the security forces. These are effective blows to the group’s strength.
Despite recent setbacks, Jamat-ul-Ahrar is the most dangerous Pakistani militant group. It has its operational base in Afghanistan while its network is spread in all over the country with specific focus on Mohmand Agency and Karachi. Mohmand Agency is home of its head Abdul Wali a.k.a. Umar Khalid Khursani, while Karachi is one of the major source of revenue for the militants. The group is behind most of the high profile attacks in Pakistan. In February, it struck in the heart of Lahore and killed senior police officials in a suicide bombing during a protest of pharmacists. There are numerous other attacks as well attributed to the group which was formed in late 2014 when TTP split into sub groups due to weak leadership of Fazlullah.
The group is more active on social media and runs many twitter, facebook, Telegram and other accounts to spread its message. Its media wing works as ‘Ihya-e-Khilafat’. It also runs a wordpress website to promote its message online.
As far as its recruitment is concerned, previously most of its fighters belonged to Pashtune’s of FATA and KPK. However, the group has now members from other ethnicities as well because it is more attractive for extremist mindsets than TTP as Fazlullah led group has failed to carryout high profile attacks like JuA has been doing.
During 2016, highest number of people killed by any single group can be attributed to JuA. 340 people were killed and 421 were injured in attacks claimed by Jamat-ul-Ahrar. More than half of the suicide attacks (9 out of 17) were carried out by the group. The group exhibited unmatched capability of conducting high profile attacks in the country. Except one, all of the suicide attacks carried out by the group were high profile, some of them deadliest ever suicide attacks in Pakistan such as attack on Lawyers in Quetta or Gulshan Park attack in Lahore. It was observed that the group specifically targeted legal fraternity in the country. It targeted lawyers in Quetta Civil hospital in which more than 75 people were killed as well as it targeted Charsadda and Mardan court complexes (Katchehri). It also targeted excise and taxation office. Jamat-ul-Ahrar also kept targeting mosques related to security forces. Two suicide bombings were reported from Mohmand Agency where the target was mosques.
Despite being deadliest group since its inception, Pakistan’s Home Ministry failed to include it into list of banned outfits until sever criticism in media. Interestingly, the group was banned by United States in August 2016 and Pakistan welcomed the blacklisting of the group but could not take necessary measures itself on legal front. The group was proscribed by Interior Ministry in November 2016. Jamat-ul-Ahrar named its violent activities for the year 2016 ‘Operation Al-Ra’ad’ (Operation Thunder). It is in resemblance to Afghan Taliban who use a new name for every year. It is not clear JuA will continue using same name in 2017 or will announce another one.
Jamat-ul-Ahrar’s head Umar Khalid Khurasani blamed ISI for blacklisting by United States. In his audio Statement, he categorically spelled out that his group has no targets outside Pakistan and it is only focused on Pakistan. He alleged that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sent its people to JuA that they should target U.S. targets but the group refused. His defensive statement was interesting one as generally it is observed that militants groups fighting in FATA take it as a matter of pride to be in the list of enemies of U.S. as it gives them bigger stature in the constituency of Jihad and they present it as an achievement. Khalid Khurasani was trying his best to convince the Americans that he has no intentions to target them here or anywhere. This could possibly with the fear that the US has the potential to target JuA’s top leadership in Afghanistan. He also rejected allegations of his group’s association with any attack in Europe.
Like TTP, Jamat-ul-Ahrar is also facing defection and surrender problems. Khurasani in another video message looked upset with the phenomenon of defection. PICSS from its sources concluded that JuA’s fighters prefer to join Afghan Taliban as well as DAESH. It is worth noting that Khuraasn chapter of DAESH was established with major defections in JuA. The first head of the chapter Hafiz Saeed Khan was also from Jamat-ul-Ahrar. Shahidullah Shahid had worked as spokesman for JuA, before joining DAESH.
Jamat ul Ahrar has better media outreach than TTP. The group maintains a blog on Blogger though it is blocked in Pakistan. Its twitter accounts are also blocked frequently, but it re-emerges with new accounts. Ahsanullah Ahsan is spokesman of Jamat-ul-Ahrar who operates separate accounts from group’s accounts. Similarly, some other twitter accounts of pro JuA people use to retweet its official tweets. The group also uses Telegram app for propaganda and currently operating Urdu, Pashtu, Persian and Arabic channels on the app. However, members of JuA’s channels are far than TTP.
In mainland Pakistan the group mostly uses suicide attacks or IEDs while in FATA it resorts mostly to raid on Pakistani posts from across the border. At times it targeted more than one post at the same time. It also uses sniper shooting in border areas as well as IEDs. The group used to run biggest kidnapping for ransom network which is mostly dismantled by Pakistani security forces. It also uses rocket attacks as well as mortar fires on Pakistani security forces in FATA.
The group is running some training camps in Afghanistan. One of the camp is named after Qari Shakeel Haqqni (late) one of the founding members of the group who was once serving as deputy of Hakeemullah Mesud as head of political Shura.
The group has organized its activities under some departments which are called ‘commission’. For example media department is called ‘Aalami Commission’. It runs military operations commission, preaching commission and justice commission (court system).