Taliban factionalisation fuels spate of kidnappings in Pakistan

* WSJ report says Ransom demands on the rise as separate strands of the militant network seek funds for their terrorist activities

ISLAMABAD: Growing factionalisation within the Pakistani Taliban has spurred a rise in kidnappings of wealthy businessmen and influential figures, The Wall Street Journal quoted security officials as saying, as separate strands of the militant network seek funds for their terrorist activities. 
An officer from the Federal Investigation Agency who works specifically on kidnapping cases said the splintering of the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, has led to more such crime in the past two years. “The militant groups are more active in this way,” he said.
Security officials also warn that the launch in June of the long-awaited military operation against Taliban strongholds in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan has sent a new wave of militants into the cities, and that criminal activity there may increase as a result.
Pakistan’s commercial hub, Karachi, has long been a notorious centre for kidnapping, but these crimes are now increasingly being committed by Taliban factions or criminals they subcontract. Taliban-linked groups are also extending the practice to parts of the country where kidnappings have been rarer, including the capital, Islamabad.
The Taliban offer protection to kidnapping gangs in return for a cut of the proceeds. The criminals get access to havens in Taliban-controlled parts of the tribal areas, while the Taliban factions get the funding they need to operate. In some cases, kidnapping gangs of ordinary criminals sell their victims to the Taliban-linked groups, which then demand much higher ransoms from their families, said a Punjab Police officer.
In a high-profile case in January, a group believed to have links with the Taliban kidnapped the deputy speaker of parliament, Moazzam Kalro, from Multan in Punjab. Held for nearly three months in Kohat, a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the edge of the lawless tribal areas, he was eventually released after his family paid Rs 50 million ($500,000), two police officials familiar with the investigation confirmed to the WSJ.
Similar amounts have been paid in ransom in other kidnappings suspected of having been carried out by Taliban factions or criminals acting on their behalf, police say. 
A Taliban spokesman denied that the militant group offers protection to criminal kidnapping gangs. “Islam justifies the kidnap and murder of our enemies,” said Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman. “We can take the money of other enemies, but we do not target innocent Muslims.”
As the Taliban have become more entrenched in the urban fabric of Karachi, the city has turned into a vital financial source for the militants, security officials said. 
The Taliban mostly target the city’s ethnically Pashtun areas. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched a security operation in Karachi in September, hoping to bring law and order to the country’s financial centre and only major port. But police say the operation failed to curb Taliban-linked kidnapping. “These elements remain out of control,” said Farooq Awan, senior superintendent of Karachi’s special investigations unit.
The Punjab police’s official crime statistics cite 132 kidnaps for ransom in the country’s largest province in 2013, down from 160 in 2012. But an officer with the police force said accurate numbers simply don’t exist. 
“There are kidnappings that are not reported, there are those that are reported but not registered, and there are those that are registered but dismissed,” he said. “They are no accurate numbers of the number of kidnappings.” 
In Islamabad, five kidnappings were reported in the first six months of 2014, compared with nine in all of 2013.
A businessman who owns a factory on the edge of Islamabad told The Wall Street Journal he was kidnapped in September 2013 and didn’t report it to police. He was released after his family paid up but he refused to discuss any details of the incident. The businessman’s tight-lipped stance is not unusual among victims. 
“They feel that if they report to the police that the kidnapper would know and they would damage them,” said Akhtar Lalayka, the senior-most police officer in Rawalpindi.

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