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Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)

LEADERS: Maulana Nawaz Jhangvi; Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi; Maulana Eesarul-Haq Qasmi; Maulana Azam Tariq

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1985

ESTIMATED SIZE: Thousands

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Pakistan, primarily the state of Punjab

OVERVIEW

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) is an extremist outfit claiming to fight for the rights of the Sunni sect in northern Pakistan, especially in the state of Punjab. The political and social scenario in Punjab has been dominated by a Shia community (a rival community of the Sunnis, a Muslim sect), comprising of high-profile landlords and businesspersons since the early 1980s.

The SSP has resorted to violent means to promote its ideologies and objectives. As of 2005, it has been banned by Pakistan as a terrorist organization.

HISTORY

SSP was originally known as Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba (ASSP) when it was formed in 1985 by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, a Sunni cleric (Maulana is a term used to address scholarly Muslims). The ASSP came into existence in region of Jhang (in Pakistan) by the efforts of Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi, Maulana Azam Tariq, and Eesar-ul-Haq Qasmi. The state of Punjab was then publicly known to have been dominated by feudal setup, which relates to a system wherein nobles (or influential people) allow people to work on their land in exchange for their labor and military service.

The Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba was soon renamed to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The base of SSP, Jhang, is a province located between the central and southern Punjab. This region has very high numbers of landholdings by the Shi'ite landlords, and the people working for them are primarily Sunnis. The SSP, reportedly known as the voice of the Jhang-Sunni sect, is allegedly initiating violent means to achieve its goals, making the issue confrontational against the Shi'ite sect.

Since the late 1980s, the SSP has been reportedly involved in various terrorist activities such as bombings that have killed hundreds of policemen and civilians (mainly Shi'ites). SSP has been operating in all the regions of Pakistan and has been reported as one of the most influential extremist outfits in Pakistan politics. According to analysts, it managed to create a large vote bank in the state of Punjab and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan.

However, by the mid 1990s there were reports of a reduction in the aggressive tactics of the group. As thought by anti-terrorism experts, owing to such moderation, many radical members left the group in 1996 to form another organization known as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Some reports also suggest that LeJ is an extension of the SSP.

As of 2005, SSP is thought to have set up more than 500 offices throughout the districts of Pakistan—a statistic that analysts claim makes it one of the most spread-out and well-networked terrorist organizations in Pakistan. According to Pakistani government officials, the founders of SSP, Maulana Tariq, Allama Ghazni, and Maulana Jhangvi, have been instrumental in the various terrorist acts organized by the group.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared the SSP a terrorist organization in 2002. According to media reports, the group renamed itself Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan in order to avoid the ramifications of the proscription. However, the group was re-designated a terrorist organization in 2003.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

As claimed by the group, the Sipah-e-Sahaba's main objective is to create a separate Sunni state of Punjab. Reportedly, feudalism is highly prevalent in Punjab—Sunnis being at the suffering end. Members of the SSP are thought to vehemently oppose the Shi'ite sect as well as the Pakistan government.

In order to attain its objectives and promote its philosophy, the SSP has allegedly resorted to violent tactics, including bombings. Since its inception, SSP has been held responsible for targeted killings of high-profile members of opponent groups, prominent Shi'ite nationals, and Pakistan government officials. The group has reportedly also bombed religious places such as those belonging to Shi'ites and other opposing sects.

SSP self-proclamations often contain derogatory comments against Shi'ites and others who oppose their strategies and beliefs. Members of the SSP claim that Iran is a major sponsor of Shi'ite activitists. Reportedly, Iranian nationals residing in Pakistan and other countries are also targeted by the group.

LEADERSHIP

MAULANA NAWAZ JHANGVI

The original founder of ASSP (later renamed to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, SSP), Maulana Nawaz Jhangvi is thought to be the most prominent SSP leader. Jhangvi, according to many, has masterminded most operations of the SSP. He reportedly contributed to what was known as the Deobandi movement against the feudal system of Shi'ites in Pakistan to resurrect the Sunni caste and its identity.

Jhangvi was killed in 1990, allegedly by Shi'ites. Although he served as leader of the SSP for a short time, most analysts state that he was responsible for the extensive propagation of the philosophies of SSP. According to Pakistan government officials, Jhangvi made numerous inflammatory remarks during his public speeches. These were thought to have instigated Sunnis to adopt terror tactics against Shi'ites and the Pakistan government.

In 1990, Maulana Jhangvi reportedly contested the election for the National Assembly seat that he eventually lost. Media reports claim that Jhangvi instructed his followers and activists to create an atmosphere of terror and violence in Pakistan and to constitute this act as a war toward establishing the Sunni state of Punjab.

KEY EVENTS

1990:
Leader of SSP, Maulana Nawaz Jhangvi was allegedly killed by Shi'ites.
1994:
SSP was suspected behind a terrorist attack that killed more than 70 people and injured another 300; this attack in the state of Punjab is thought to be one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
1996:
Many radical members of the SSP reportedly left the group to form another extremist outfit, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
2002:
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf declared SSP a terrorist organization.

In 1999, during the military coup in Pakistan (led by General Pervez Musharraf—now the self-appointed President of Pakistan), SSP, like other extremist organizations, also reportedly chose to keep a low profile. Antiterrorism experts state that the SSP and many other similar outfits act only when they sense a neutral environment—an environment where they are more likely to make a bigger impact. According to news reports, the internal disorder within Pakistan, as a result of the various extremist organizations, saw a drastic reduction during this period.

However, in a tactical move in 2001, SSP joined hands with members of the Afghan Jehad Council after learning about the United States-Pakistan alliance on the "War on Terror" against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. Antiterrorism experts and monitor groups claim that the SSP is known to have close links with the Taliban regime. This move allegedly garnered considerable support from other groups that were also against the alliance. According to Pakistan government officials, such strategies have helped the group in intensifying their terrorist operations in Punjab and elsewhere.

The Sipah-e-Sahaba, in the past, is thought to have strong associations with a number of other terrorist outfits, both in Pakistan as well as other countries. According to news reports, the group has received financial funding as well as training support from many of these other organizations. Some of the alleged connections of the SSP are with Pakistan-based terrorist outfits—Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaishe-Mohammed (JeM). According to published reports, SSP also has links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime. Apart from these, monitor groups assert that Sipah-e-Sahaba has strong relations with numerous pro-Sunni political parties in Pakistan, including the Jamat-e-Islam (JeL) and Jamat-Ulema-e-Islam.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Pakistani government officials have condemned the terrorist acts performed by the SSP, especially since the early 2000s. As reported by the Guardian in 2001, after several attacks allegedly organized by the SSP, Pakistan's Interior Minister General Moinuddin Haider stated, "Over the years many people have been killed in the name of sects and we cannot allow this to continue."

PRIMARY SOURCE
Sipah-i-Sahaba/Pakistan (SSP)

DESCRIPTION

The Sipah-I-Sahaba/Pakistan (SSP) is a Sunni sectarian group that follows the Deobandi school. Violently anti-Shia, the SSP emerged in central Punjab in the mid-1980s as a response to the Iranian Revolution. Pakistani President Musharraf banned the SSP in January 2002. In August 2002, the SSP renamed itself Millat-i-Islami Pakistan, and Musharraf re-banned the group under its new name in November 2003. The SSP also has operated as a political party, winning seats in Pakistan's National Assembly.

ACTIVITIES

The group's activities range from organizing political rallies calling for Shia to be declared non-Muslims to assassinating prominent Shia leaders. The group was responsible for attacks on Shia worshippers in May 2004, when at least fifty people were killed.

STRENGTH

The SSP may have approximately 3,000 to 6,000 trained activists who carry out various kinds of sectarian activities.

LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION

The SSP has influence in all four provinces of Pakistan. It is considered to be one of the most powerful sectarian groups in the country.

EXTERNAL AID

The SSP reportedly receives significant funding from Saudi Arabia through wealthy private donors in Pakistan. Funds also are acquired from other sources, including other Sunni extremist groups, madrassas, and contributions by political groups.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf as well as other officials have also publicly criticized SSP and other similar militant groups, claiming that "terrorist acts of such organizations would not be tolerated."

SUMMARY

The Sipah-e-Sahaba is thought to have been most active during the 1990s. It has been suspected of numerous terror operations that were responsible for killing hundreds of people—mainly Shi'ites. Although the group was banned by President Pervez Musharraf in 2002 (and later re-designated in 2003), it is thought to be active.

As of 2005, reports claim that SSP has been involved in joint terrorist operations in Punjab and other parts of Pakistan. Their goal of Sunni liberation from Shi'ite community in Punjab, and its establishment as an independent state still remains in the forefront.

SOURCES

Web sites

Guardian Unlimited. "Arrests Rack Up Tension Ahead of Execution." 〈http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,443781,00.html〉 (accessed October 1, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Group Profile: Sipah-e-Sahaba/Pakistan (SSP)." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=3870〉 (accessed Octo 1, 2005).

South Asian Terrorism Portal. "Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Terrorist Group of Pakistan." 〈http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/terroristoutfits/ssp.htm〉 (accessed October 1, 2005).

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