ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani authorities have banned the Ghazi Force (GF), a terror outfit associated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Pakistan's Interior Ministry on August 25 imposed a ban on the group under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 for its suspected links to terrorism.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) added the GF to its list of proscribed organisations as part of the move.
Little is known about the group, which has remained largely underground since its inception.
The GF is named for Abdul Rashid Ghazi, an Islamic fundamentalist leader of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad who was killed during a government siege of the complex in July 2007, according to security officials and analysts.
The group is allied with the banned TTP and most of its members are Lal Masjid students, according to Abdul Basit, a researcher associated with the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.
"They [GF militants] facilitated several attacks in Islamabad, particularly suicide attacks, which took place right after the security forces' siege of Lal Masjid," Basit said.
The GF's website showed that the group has open hostility toward the government and support for TTP, he said, adding that "one breakaway faction of the Ghazi Force pledged allegiance to the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria''s Khorasan branch (ISIS-K)".
Maulana Niaz Raheem, a student of Jamia Faridia, one of Lal Masjid's seminaries, founded the GF with the support of Mullah Fazlullah, the future TTP emir, said a senior NACTA official on the condition of anonymity.
Most GF members are from the two seminaries of Lal Masjid -- Jamia Faridia, the all-male madrassa, and Jamia Hafsa, its all-female counterpart, the official said.
The group helped carry out several high-profile suicide attacks in or near Islamabad, including an attack on the World Food Programme office in October 2009, one on the Marriott Hotel in September 2008 and another on a NATO supply convoy in June 2010, he said.
However, a number of leading GF members have been arrested and killed in shootouts in various parts of the country, weakening the militant group, according to the official.
Banning terror groups on both sides of sectarian divide
The latest ban comes as Pakistan's law enforcement agencies intensify a crackdown on Shia militant groups -- sectarian enemies of the GF -- that have been accused of inciting sectarian violence in Pakistan and luring recruits to fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Pakistan's intelligence agencies have raised concerns over Shia youth falling victim to Iranian influence and recruitment into Tehran-backed mercenary groups fighting in Iraq and Syria.
On August 19, the federal government banned the Khatam-ul-Ambia (KuA), a Shia outfit, for sending Shia youth to Syria to fight along with Iranian-backed fighters supporting government forces.
Members of Ansar ul-Hussain, a Shia militant outfit banned by the Interior Ministry in December 2016, began operating under the KuA in an attempt to escape law enforcement agencies.
The primary recruiters, financiers and handlers for the Pakistani militants in Syria are Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force.
Pakistani authorities have arrested dozens of Shia youth, mainly belonging to the Zainabiyoun Brigade, a militia made up of Pakistanis sent to fight in Syria in support of al-Assad's regime, in connection with alleged involvement with the organisations.