May 01, 2013
ISLAMABAD - Wearing a long beard and an afghan hat on top of his curly black hair, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed makes it clear he doesn't like giving interviews. In his traditional salwar kameez robe, he adjusts his little round glasses and suspiciously gauges the journalist in front of him.
Saeed is officially speaking as the president of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, which is the public face of the Islamic organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT, literally “Army of the Righteous” in Urdu).
Before being able to meet him, you first need to get past the human wall of young fighters in military jackets and kaffiyehs, who carry kalachnikovs and would readily give their lives for their leader. Such tight security might appear disproportionate for a man who claims to simply be a humanitarian official.
When asked, most of these young men will openly admit to how they have returned from the disputed province of Kashmir, where they fought against the Indian army. Implicitly, it is a confession to being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Indeed, the man they venerate is considered the founder of this terrorist group, blacklisted by the U.S. Department of State since the audacious Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008 that targeted several high-end hotels, including the famous Taj Mahal Palace, and a café popular with tourists. The death toll of 166 people included 28 foreigners.
Since 2012, The United States has been offering $10 million to anyone who would provide information leading to the arrest of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. The chances of him being brought to justice, however, would appear to be quite low. The 64-year-old is not even hiding. “I come and go as I wish. If the Americans want to come and get me, they have my address. My fate is in the hands of God, not in those of the United States.”
Marching for Bin Laden
From its creation in 1981, the primary goal of Lashkar-e-Taiba has been to fight the Indian enemy in Kashmir. Mentioning the conflict prompts an immediate reaction. Indeed, he loses his temper right away.
"We are fighting for the freedom of our Muslim brothers. These men and women have been subjected to the attacks of the Indian government since 1947. It must stop. We need to set them free.” Even if he refuses to comment, it has been confirmed that several training camps have been set up in the area to train new fighters. The largest of these camps, located near the Kashmiri capital Muzaffarabad, is said to be managed by Talha Saeed, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed's son, who is also listed as a terrorist by the United States.
A few days after the Mumbai attacks, facing international pressure, the Pakistani army led several operations to destroy these training camps. However, some are still in activity.
At the moment, Lashkar-e-Taiba is all but getting out of Kashmir, says Abdullah Ghaznavi, spokesman for the organization. “Our fight for Kashmir’s freedom will go on. It is our central objective.”
Other camps may have also been settled near the Afghan border, in the Khyber tribal region. Evidence of this was found in 2010, when the American army received a warning that Lashkar members were fighting alongside the Taliban in the Nangarhar province, on the other side of the Pakistani border.
When asked about jihad, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed strokes his long black beard for a few seconds. As he speaks, his voice gets louder. “All Muslims have to join us, we will teach them the real meaning of jihad. The time to fight has come. Experts and journalists are still wondering why the United States are falling apart. The only real explanation is precisely our jihad.”
His words sound like a threat. Saeed has never made a secret of his affinities with Al-Qaeda. Far from it. In May 2011, after Osama Bin Laden was killed, he led a major rally in Lahore, during which several thousand people shouted anti-US slogans and hailed the terrorist leader as a martyr.
In order to give himself legitimacy, Saeed has been setting up a network of hospitals and schools, through his charity organization Jammat-ud-Dawa. Asked about it, he suddenly relaxes, and a sincere smile finally appears on his face.
“Today, we have created 16 islamic institutions, 135 schools, an ambulance service and several mobile clinics,” he boasts.
Saeed seems happy to talk about his involvement in helping people and teaching young Pakistanis. These are laudable ambitions in a country where education and health are gravely underdeveloped. However, this help is considered by many as a mere smokescreen, as the schools may be closer to recruitment centers for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s activities than real educational models.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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