Radical group has high profile at `secret' site

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The Khost training camps are supposed to be secret, but on a hill opposite the main gate the new management has provided a helpful clue to their identity: the word "Harkat-ul-Ansar" has been painstakingly spelt out in Urdu, in six-foot-high letters with white stones, writes Caroline Lees. It is a bizarre touch, adopted from the tradition of marking an area where an army regiment has its headquarters.

Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA) is one of the most radical Islamic militant groups in the region. It is about to be officially designated a terrorist organisation and outlawed by the United States, following its involvement in recent international terrorist activities, including the kidnapping and murder of five Western hostages in Kashmir last year.

News of the group's presence in the training camps at Khost has alarmed Western diplomats in Islamabad, who describe it as "extremely serious". There was also concern about Pakistan's role in the operation of the camps.

HUA openly holds public rallies and fund-raising meetings in Pakistan. It has offices all over the country, especially in Karachi and the Punjab, where unemployment is high and recruitment is easy. Two trainees at Al Badr 1 told a Peshawar-based journalist, Rahimullah Yusefzai, that they had been sent for training after being recruited by the HUA at its office in Murree, north-west Pakistan.

Apart from seeming to sanction HUA's activities, Pakistani authorities are believed to know about the reopening of the camp in Khost and to turn a blind eye to the coachloads full of young men who regularly drive from Pakistan to join the training. Petrol and food for these 360 trainees is also sent across the border by Pakistani suppliers.

The Pakistani government may not play an official role in the Khost camps, but it has made access to them easy. Last year a new tarred road, the only one in the province, was built by Pakistan from Khost to Miran Shah, across the border in Pakistan.

It is in Pakistan's interest to support HUA's military training activities. Most of their camp graduates are sent to fight in Afghanistan, with the Taliban, against the Indian-backed former government forces, or to Kashmir to fight the Indian army.

The HUA may not fight in the name of Pakistan, but they are on the same side.