Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and al Qaeda’s Brigade 313.
Two American citizens who have been indicted for plotting terror attacks overseas have direct connections to a senior al Qaeda commander and two Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives.
Chicago natives David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana have been charged in federal court with plotting to conduct attacks against a newspaper in Denmark, according to a criminal complaint that was unsealed today at the US District Court in Chicago. Headley was in contact with al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri and two unnamed Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives.
Headley, who changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006, was detained on Oct. 3 after he attempted to travel to Pakistan. Headley has been charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts involving murder and maiming outside the United States and one count of conspiracy to provide material support to that overseas terrorism conspiracy,” according to a press release written by the US Department of Justice.
Rana, a Canadian citizen from Pakistan, was detained on Oct. 18. Rana was was charged with “one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorism conspiracy that involved Headley and at least three other specific individuals in Pakistan.”
Both Headley and Rana have been plotting to attack “facilities and employees of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten,” the Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005. The publication of the cartoons sparked violence and protest. The Taliban in Afghanistan have vowed to conduct retaliatory attacks in Denmark and Europe after the publication of the cartoons.
The operation was called the “Mickey Mouse Project,” and, according to a senior US intelligence official contacted by The Long War Journal, the plot involved “assault teams” assigned to attack the headquarters of Jyllands-Posten and kill the staff. Further arrests in Denmark related to the plot are expected.
The attacks were to be “modeled” on the November 2008 assault in Mumbai and the attacks on police centers in Lahore and the Pakistani Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi this month, the official said. Kashmiri is known to have played a role in these attacks; he was a commando in Pakistan’s army and for years has trained jihadi groups from Kashmir and other allied groups to conduct military operations.
Headley communicated with Ilyas Kashmiri and Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives
Headley began plotting the attack against Jyllands-Posten in October 2008 after posting a message expressing his desire to avenge the perceived slight against Islam and Mohammed. “I feel disposed towards violence for the offending parties,” Headley wrote at “abdalians” forum, an internet group for graduates of a Pakistani military school.
By late 2008, Headley was in touch with a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative “who has substantial influence and responsibility within the organization and whose identity is known to the government” and another operative with close connections to Kashmiri. The first Lashkar operative was detained by Pakistan during the summer of 2009, and released later.
Headley traveled to Pakistan as well as Copenhagen and other locations in Europe several times, using Rana’s business as a cover. He even visited Miramshah in South Waziristan, the headquarters of the notorious Haqqani Network, al Qaeda’s biggest ally among the Taliban, where he claimed he met Kashmiri. He remained in contact with the Lashkar operatives and received direction to focus on the Denmark attack. Headley’s contact with Kashmiri was directed through one of the Lashkar operatives.
The reported death of Kashmiri in mid-September put Headley in a panic, according to the criminal complaint. Kashmiri was thought to have been killed in a US airstrike in North Waziristan on Sept. 14. On Sept. 21, Headley found out Kashmiri was alive, and made arrangements to meet him and the Lashkar operative during his planned trip to Pakistan in October.
Arrests highlight the extent of al Qaeda and allied movements’ reach
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that the detention of Headley and Rana show how al Qaeda and allied jihadist movements cooperate to achieve the same goals.
“This case shows you how al Qaeda is operating in Pakistan,” a senior military intelligence official said. “You have the HuJI chief [Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami leader Kashmiri] working with Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders while based in North Waziristan allocating resources for an attack in Denmark that is being facilitated through the US.”
“This is why we call it AQAM,” the abbreviation for al Qaeda and allied movements, a term used in US military and intelligence circles. “At times their planning, allocation of resources, and operations are indistinguishable. Their goals are identical; they want to hit us here as well as carve out their caliphate there.”
Kashmiri was brought into the “Mickey Mouse” plot to “impart his military knowledge” on the team that was to carry out the assault, an official said.
Some officials believe that al Qaeda got too fancy for the Denmark plot by working through US operatives.
“They [al Qaeda] want to show they can use the US as a base to attack other countries,” the official said. “They were too clever by half.”
Background on Ilyas Kashmiri
Ilyas Kashmiri is considered by US intelligence to be one of al Qaeda’s most dangerous commanders. He served as the operational chief of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an al Qaeda-linked terror group that operates in Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Kashmiri was recently listed as the fourth most wanted terrorist by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry.
Kashmiri is now serving as the “acting chairman of the military committee as Saif al Adel has moved up the ranks,” a senior official told The Long War Journal.
Kashmiri is thought to have played a major role in the multi-pronged suicide attack against government and security installations in the eastern Afghan province of Khost in May, the military intelligence official said.
Last year, Kashmiri reportedly drafted a plan to assassinate General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, Pakistan’s top military officer, but the plan was canceled by al Qaeda’s senior leadership, according to a report in the Asia Times.
Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and several other Pakistani terror groups have merged with al Qaeda in Pakistan, and operate under the name of Brigade 313. This group is interlinked with Pakistan’s Taliban and also recruits senior members of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, a senior US official told The Long War Journal.
Brigade 313 has been behind many of the high-profile attacks and bombings inside Pakistan, including multiple assassination attempts against former President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Gilani. Brigade 313 is one of the six known units in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army.
Kashmiri is also a longtime asset of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. He served as a commando in the elite Special Services Group (SSG), Pakistan’s special operations unit trained by Britain’s Special Air Service. In the early 1990s, Kashmiri was ordered by the military to join the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and later he was urged to join the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which he refused to do.
Kashmiri reportedly dropped out of favor with the military after refusing the military’s suggestion to join Jaish-e-Mohammed. In 2003 he was arrested after being accused of involvement in the assassination attempts against then-President Musharraf, and was later released. After the 2007 Pakistani Army assault on the radical Lal Masjid in Islamabad, he set up camp in Ramzak in North Waziristan, and was joined by several Pakistani Army military officers. Kashmiri is widely thought to have maintained his links with the radical elements in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services throughout his time operating with jihadi groups.
Kashmiri was behind the assassination of Major General Faisal Alvi, the retired commander of the SSG, in Rawalpindi in late 2008. Alvi was killed just months after sending a letter to General Kiyani. In the letter, Alvi accused two generals of forcing his retirement. According to The Times Online, Alvi said he was forced to retire after threatening to expose the two generals’ involvement with the Taliban.
Kashmiri is on the record as swearing allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar as far back as 1999.
“[W]e folks have taken oath from Mullah Omar and we consider him as Ameerul Momineen [the leader of the faithful],” Kashmiri told a Pakistani reporter a decade ago. “We have absolute permission from him to go to any place and engage ourselves in jihadi activities.”