Islamabad: The dreaded leader of Pakistan’s banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ), Malik Ishaq, was killed along with his two sons and 11 top members of the al-Qaeda-linked terror group behind several deadly attacks on the minority Shia community, police said today.
Ishaq and his sons, who had been arrested last week, were being moved to another location when gunmen attacked the police convoy in Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province late last night to free him following which a shootout took place, they said.
The death of the LeJ chief, believed to be either 55 or 56 years of age, is a huge blow to the LeJ which is involved in killing of hundreds of Shias and has been accused of developing links with the Islamic State.
Ishaq, accused of masterminding dozens of attacks against the minority Shia community, his sons Usman and Haq Nawaz, and 11 other senior members of the group were killed in the encounter, police said.
At least six policemen were also injured in the encounter which lasted for more than two hours, they said. A top police officer said Ishaq, his sons and three other militants were taken to Shahwala in Muzaffargarh by Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) for recovery of weapons and on their return they were attacked by LeJ militants.
“The militants were freed by the attackers who fled on motorbike,” he said. However, an officer of CTD who was informed about the incident was travelling on the road taken by the fleeing militants. The officer challenged the militants, which led to heavy exchange of fire.
“In the clash, 14 militants were killed, including Ishaq and two sons, while three policemen were injured,” he said. Citing a spokesman of CTD, local media reported that Ishaq was killed by the attackers to avoid his arrest.
The LeJ chief, belonged to Rahimyar Khan district of Punjab and was one of the founders of the group set up in mid- 1990s, was involved in several murder cases and was arrested in 1997. He was kept in jail for 14 years and released in 2011.
Media reports said that Ishaq was so feared in Pakistan that frightened judges hid their faces from him and even offered the unrepentant killer tea and cookies in court. He was freed by courts in the past due to lack of evidence.
He was also believed to be the mastermind of 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. LeJ, with ties to Al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for January 2013 blasts in the southwestern city of Quetta that killed over a hundred members of the Shia Hazara community. The outfit was banned more than a decade ago by former president Pervez Musharraf.
In February 2013, LeJ claimed responsibility for another attack in the same neighbourhood that killed around 80 members from the Hazara community.