US officials have linked Tashfeen Malik, one of the Pakistani-origin shooters in the San Bernardino massacre, to Islamabad’s radical Lal Masjid.
The information about the link was shared by US officials with Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother, during a meeting in London.
The Prime Minister’s office on Saturday denied the US government had provided information about links between Malik and the mosque though the charge, if proved, would be a major embarrassment for Sharif.
Sharif’s government has been known to provide security and assistance to Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric of the Lal Masjid, for several years, even after the women’s wing of the mosque declared its allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in a widely shared video. Aziz too has expressed support for the IS.
Pakistani media reported about the links between Tashfeen Malik, who was killed along with her husband Syed Rizwan Farook in a gunfight with police, and Maulana Abdul Aziz.
“Tashfeen was in contact with Islamabad’s Lal Masjid,” a US official told an unnamed Pakistani official familiar with the investigation, according to ARY News. “Investigation officials have found Malik’s pictures in which she can be seen with Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz,” the report said.
“Abdul Aziz has been shielded by Sharif’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on several occasions and the government has failed to arrest this controversial cleric, even after courts ordered his arrest,” said Jibran Nasir, a politician and rights activist who led a protest in Islamabad this year to have Aziz put behind bars.
In 2014, Jamia Hafsa, the women’s wing of Lal Masjid, declared support and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and invited the IS to launch operations in Pakistan. The head of the Jamia Hafsa is Abdul Aziz’s wife Majida Younis.
However, the Pakistan government did not take any notice of this announcement and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan insisted the IS had no presence in the country.
It is believed Malik was influenced by Aziz and Younis and she may have been prompted by them to work for the IS.
Officials have said privately the Sharif government’s policy of selectively supporting militant groups may have finally backfired.
The Lal Masjid was the scene of a standoff between heavily armed extremists and Pakistani soldiers in 2007. About 100 people were killed in heavy fighting at the mosque in the heart of Islamabad.
(With agency inputs)