The terror commander who led the assault and siege on Pakistan’s Army General Headquarters last weekend was previously in police custody for involvement in the suicide attack on the Islamabad Marriott in September 2008.
The Taliban commander, who is known as Dr. Usman, led the 10-man assault team that a few days ago attacked the front checkpoint at Army General Headquarters, entered the compound, and took 42 hostages. In the 18-hour crisis that shut down Pakistan’s Army command, 14 Pakistani troops were killed, including a brigadier general, a lieutenant colonel, and six commandos from the Special Services Group, along with nine terrorists. Thirty-nine hostages were freed during the commando assault that ended the siege.
Dr. Usman is the only terrorist to have survived the assault. He escaped the initial commando assault and was wounded and then captured in another section of the building.
Dr. Usman was previously in the custody of Pakistani security forces for his suspected involvement in the suicide attack at the Islamabad Marriott in September 2008. Dr. Usman was detained along with Rana Ilyas, Muhammad Hameed Afzal, and Tehseenullah Khan, according to a report in Daily Times from October 2008. The four men were described as being “linked to an organized terrorist network operating in the NWFP and Punjab.”
It is not clear when Dr. Usman was released from custody. According to the Daily Times, on Aug. 9, 2009, the Anti-Terrorism Court completed a hearing on an acquittal plea filed by Dr. Usman relating to his involvement in the Marriott suicide attack. The court rejected the plea on Sept. 22, 2009.
Dr. Usman, who is also known as Mohammad Aqeel, served in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps until 2006, when he left the military and joined the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Daily Times reported. He later joined the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which is led by Qari Saifullah Akhar. Dr. Usman served under Ilyas Kashmiri, the former Special Services Group commando who served as the operations chief for HuJI (the US killed Kashmiri during an airstrike in North Waziristan in September).
Kashmiri formed the Amjad Farooqi Group from the HuJI cadre, and the group is largely manned with Punjabi jihadis, many with military experience. Amjad Farooqi, who was killed by Pakistani security forces in 2004, led two assassination attempts against then-President Pervez Musharraf. Dr. Usman is also thought to be involved in the planning of those operations.
The Amjad Farooqi Group is often referred to as the “Punjabi Taliban” and has close ties to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other jihadi groups in Pakistan.
Dr. Usman is said to have organized and led some of the most high-profile attacks carried out by the Amjad Farooqi Group. Along with the Islamabad Marriott suicide attack, Dr. Usman has been implicated in the ambush that targeted the Sri Lankan national cricket team in Lahore in March 2009 and the suicide attack that killed Lieutenant General Mushtaq Ahmed Baig, the Surgeon General of the Army Medical Corps, in February 2008. Dr. Usman worked with Mushtaq during his time in the Army. General Mushtaq is the senior-most Pakistani general killed by the Taliban.
The Amjad Farooqi Group and Dr. Usman are also thought to be involved in a suicide bombing in February 2007 at the Islamabad airport that targeted former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.