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June 5, 2011

Is Kashmiri still alive?


June 5, 2011

LAHORE: There is nothing new in the reports about commander Ilyas Kashmiri’s death, once again, in yet another American drone strike in South Waziristan as the al-Qaeda-linked fugitive militant leader had been pronounced dead twice in the past in a short span of one week — on September 7 and September 14, 2009 in American drone strikes.
That Ilyas Kashmiri has actually been killed in the Friday night attack has not yet been confirmed officially either by Islamabad or Washington and the only confirmation has come from a statement faxed by the militant group he was heading — Brigade 313 of Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI) — stating he was “martyred” in the strike at 11:15pm Friday in South Waziristan tribal region. The statement issued by a spokesman for HUJI, Abu Hanzala, vowed revenge against the United States. Ilyas Kashmiri is said to be one of nine militants killed in a drone strike that levelled a compound in Ghwakhwa village of Wana area in South Waziristan.
Pakistani authorities initially claimed that the strike had killed five Punjabi militants including Usman, Amir, Farooq, Hamza and Ibrahim. However, reports emanating on Saturday say the number of those killed in the drone attack was nine and the 47-year-old Ilyas Kashmiri was one of them.
The June 3 attack in South Waziristan was conducted in an area being controlled by Mulla Nazir, an al-Qaeda-linked Taliban commander who is considered a “good Taliban” leader by the Pakistani military establishment because he does not attack the state. But sources in the Pakistani security establishment are still unsure about Kashmiri’s death and believe the HUJI statement about his killing might be an attempt to deceive those who wanted to hunt him down.
The importance of Kashmiri in the al-Qaeda network can be gauged from the fact that he is undoubtedly the only Pakistani militant to have risen in the al-Qaeda ranks to the coveted slot of the terror group’s chief military strategist, now

serving as the second-in-command of commander Saif Al Adal, who was made the interim chief of al-Qaeda following bin Laden’s death.
It was in 2009 that he was declared dead twice on September 7 and September 14 following US drone attacks targeting militants’ compounds in Turikhel village near Mir Ali town of North Waziristan. Yet, hardly a month after his reported death, Kashmiri re-surfaced and promised retribution against the US and its proxies (in an October 2009 interview), saying the Americans are right to pursue him.
“They know their enemy quite well. They know what I am really up to,” Ilyas Kashmiri had observed. The General Headquarters (GHQ) was subsequently attacked in Rawalpindi on October 10, 2009.
Those investigating the May 22, 2011 Mehran naval base attack in Karachi believe it was a replica of the GHQ assault. Asked in the same interview what turned him from the most-beloved friend to the most-hated foe in the eyes of the Pakistani military establishment, Kashmiri had stated: “I cannot even think of going against the interests of Pakistan, which is my beloved country. It was never the Pakistan Army that was against me, but certain elements who branded me as an enemy to cover up their weaknesses and to appease their masters”.
Ilyas Kashmiri had been the first ever Pakistani militant to have been tagged by the United Nations and the United States as a specially designated global terrorist in August 2010, mainly because of his al-Qaeda connections. Described as a terror successor to Osama bin Laden by none other than CNN last year, he is probably the only fugitive militant who is not only wanted by India and Pakistan but also by the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and France. It was on August 6, 2010, that the United States Treasury Department, in conjunction with the United Nations, named Kashmiri as a specially designated global terrorist, putting him in the same league with Osama bin Laden and Dr Ayman Zawahiri, men to whom he pledged allegiance. The Obama administration recently gave Pakistan time till July 2011 to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan and to capture five most wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Kashmiri, said to be blind in one eye and missing a finger, which he had lost while fighting against the Russian occupation forces in Afghanistan.
The extent of the danger Kashmiri posed to the West can be gauged from the nature of the charges brought against him by the US Justice Department in January 2009 when a federal grand jury in the northern district of Illinois indicted him for terrorism-related offences in connection with a terrorist attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark which had published sacrilegious caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Going by the charge sheet, one of the Kashmiri’s operative, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American (originally named Dawood Gillani, now serving a life sentence in the US for terror-related offences) ceased the main targets for the Mumbai attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba. The US Justice Department had concluded in its charge sheet that Kashmiri was working with David Headley in late 2008, immediately after the Mumbai attacks, to plot new terrorist attacks by infiltrating highly trained terrorists into America and Europe. Headley revealed that he had been taken to Pakistan’s tribal belt on the Afghan border in 2009 to meet Kashmiri.
Originally a product of the Pakistani establishment which had nurtured him to wage jehad in Jammu & Kashmir, Kashmiri eventually fell out of favour with his spymasters, when he refused to serve under the command of a junior jehadi — Maulana Masood Azhar, who had just founded Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in early 2001 after being released from an Indian jail in the wake of an Indian plane hijacking. Following the Lal Masjid military operation in July 2007, he moved his operational base from his home town Kotli to North Waziristan to become a part of the Afghan Taliban-led fight against Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Despite what some media reports claim, Kashmiri was never a part of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army, nor even of the army. Nearly 30 years ago when he joined the Afghan jehad against Russia from the platform of the HUJI, he had developed expertise in guerrilla warfare and explosives. Within months of arriving in the Afghan war theatre, he redefined the Afghan Taliban-led insurgency based on legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s three-pronged guerrilla warfare strategy. However, he deliberately adopted a low key presence in the militant hierarchy, never claiming responsibility for any terrorist operation.
His 313 Brigade is believed to be the main catalyst of high-profile operations such as the one in Mumbai and others in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), HUJI, LeT, JeM, Jundullah and several other Pakistani militant groups are known to have merged with al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and the group operates under the name of Brigade 313. Interestingly, 313 Brigade also has a website whose landing page has the words “Al-Qaeda Brigade 313” in the centre, in addition to inscribing the names of HUJI, LeJ, Jundullah and the Movement of Pakistani Taliban in the four corners of the page.
The website also carries the pictures of Ilyas Kashmiri and several top al-Qaeda leaders. He has already established himself as the captain of al-Qaeda’s shadow army, Lashkar-e-Zil (LeZ), which is a loose alliance of al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked anti-US militia. The Zil has distinguished itself by conducting unusual guerrilla operations, like the one that targeted the CIA’s Forward Operating Base in Khost on December 31, 2009, and killed seven CIA officials. Security experts say Ilyas Kashmiri’s death would be severe blow to the al-Qaeda network in Pakistan, if at all he is killed.

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