Pakistani extortionists cash in by posing as Taliban

Last Updated: Monday, November 18, 2013 - 09:43

Islamabad: It began innocuously enough -- two men on a motorbike delivered a plain brown envelope to the home of Mohammed, an Islamabad businessman. But the contents plunged him into a terrifying three-month nightmare.

The letter, headed with the banner of the Pakistani Taliban, informed Mohammed that a Taliban judge had found him guilty of not living by Islamic principles.

It said Mohammed -- not his real name -- had been fined five million rupees (USD 50,000) and threatened dire consequences if he went to the police or failed to pay up.

"Our squad of suicide bombers is always prepared to send non-believers to hell, God willing," the letter seen by a news agency read.

At the bottom, the name of feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud was written in bold followed by a signature that resembled his name.

Mohammed had no way of knowing it, but the signature was fake.

He had been snared by criminals exploiting the terrifying reputation of the Pakistani Taliban to extort money from rich businessmen in Islamabad and its twin city Rawalpindi.

The Rawalpindi chamber of commerce says its members regularly receive extortion demands of up to USD 100,000, and last month a property dealer in the city who refused to pay a demand found explosives hanging from the door of his office.

The leafy capital, home to foreign embassies, international aid organisations and well-to-do officials, has remained relatively peaceful in recent years as attacks by homegrown Islamist militants have rattled other parts of the country.

But fear of the TTP, which has killed thousands of people in a bloody campaign against the state over the past six years, runs deep and criminals are cashing in.

Multiple sources in the security agencies and among the militants confirmed that the signature on the letter sent to Mohammed was fake and did not resemble that of Mehsud in any way.

Mehsud has since been killed in a US drone strike, but at the time, his name alone was enough to strike terror into Mohammed.

"I was scared to death when I read the letter. It was the most frightening experience of my life -- I didn`t know what to do," Mohammed told a news agency.

"I avoided going out of the house and didn`t even go to work. I was also worried about my family`s safety, my kids going to school."

He shared the letter with his wife but even then they were too afraid to go to the police.

AFP

First Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 - 09:43

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