PESHAWAR: A dreaded Pakistani militant commander and leader of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), Ilyas Kashmiri, was killed along with 13 other militants in a US drone attack at a village near Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, on Friday night.
The attack took place in a village, Shokai Naray, located near Karikot and Ghwakhwa villages, a few kilometres south of Wana town. The Wana area is inhabited by the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe and controlled by militants led by Maulvi Nazeer. A peace agreement between the militants, tribal elders and the government is in place in the Wana and Shakai areas. The militants in this area aren’t part of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Hakimullah Mahsud.
Ilyas Kashmiri, stated to be 47 years old, was wanted by Pakistan, the United States, India and several other countries for his alleged involvement in several terrorist attacks.
The United States had recently offered $5 million reward for information leading to his whereabouts.
Senior Punjabi Taliban commanders and close aides of Ilyas Kashmiri confirmed his death in the US drone attack and warned that they would avenge the “martyrdom” of their “Ameer” or head from the United States and Pakistan.
One Abu Hanzala, said to be a leader of the HUJI, faxed a statement to media organisations announcing Ilyas Kashmiri’s death.
Qari Mohammad Idrees, a senior commander of HUJI and close aide of Ilyas Kashmiri, called this scribe from somewhere in South Waziristan and confirmed his death in the US drone strike.
He said Ilyas Kashmiri was based in North Waziristan but had moved to Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan, a few days ago on the advice of his well-wishers after rumours that the Pakistan government was planning to launch a military operation in North Waziristan.
“We lost our hero finally. He was the hero of Islam, Kashmir and Afghanistan,” Qari Idrees remarked in his broken voice. He said Ilyas Kashmiri was sitting with friends at an apple orchard when they came under attack.
The CIA-operated spy plane, he said, first fired two missiles and hit the place where the militant commander and his men were sitting. After an interval of a few minutes, he said, the drone fired two more missiles and this time hit their bodies that had already been dismembered and shattered into pieces.
The militant commander said that besides Ilyas Kashmiri, 13 other people, mostly hailing from various areas in Punjab such as Dera Ghazi Khan, Faisalabad, Lahore and Jhang were killed in the attack.
He said some of the slain militants belonged to Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa while another two were from Mir Ali in North Waziristan who had accompanied Ilyas Kashmiri to Wana.
Some of the slain militants were identified as Ameer Hamza, Mohammad Ibrahim, Mohammad Usman, Mohammad Nauman, Farooq Ahmad, Qari Abdul Qudoos and Mohammad Imran.
He said some of the slain men had been buried at a graveyard near Ghundai village in Wana. However, he showed reluctance to provide information when asked whether Ilyas Kashmir had also been laid to rest in the same graveyard.
Qari Idrees said Ilyas Kashmiri had taken part in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation army and lost two eyes and three fingers of his right hand in an explosion. He said later his right eyesight got restored through a donated eye brought from Sri Lanka.
He said Ilyas Kashmiri was associated with the Afghan Taliban and Arabs and engaged in the fight against the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan’s Khost, Paktia, Paktika and Helmand provinces.
Another senior militant commander of the Punjabi Taliban and an active member of HUJI also called The News from an undisclosed location and confirmed Ilyas Kashmiri’s death in the drone attack.
Shocked over the loss of their leader, the militant commander said that Ilyas Kashmiri and his men had never been involved in any terrorist attack in Pakistan. “Ilyas Kashmiri had always opposed carrying out terrorist acts in Pakistan. We have no involvement in any attack in Pakistan whether it was the one on the GHQ in Rawalpindi or the Pakistan Navy’s Mehran base in Karachi,” he claimed.
However, he feared that now when Ilyas Kashmiri is dead, it would be difficult for the militants’ leadership he left behind to control the angry and shocked fighters from carrying out attacks in Pakistan.
“I am a witness to some occasions when Pakistani militant commanders of banned Jihadi organisation trying to provoke him for allowing his men to fight against Pakistani security forces as they were arresting and killing his fighters and then cooperating with the Americans to eliminate him through their unmanned spy planes. But Kashmiri Sahib always turned down their suggestions and told them that Pakistan was a fortress of Islam and home of brave Muslims,” he recalled.
Soon after the missile strikes, Pakistani security forces in Wana came out of their military camp and started searching some private health centres and schools believing that some important militant commanders suffering injuries in the attack were being provided treatment.
Official and tribal sources said four people, two of them local and two hailing from Punjab, were taken into custody from one privately-owned health centre and shifted them to an unknown location. There was no information about their identity.
Local tribesmen, however, felt it seemed to them Pakistani officials were on board about whom the CIA-operated drones were going to target in the region.