Al Qaeda appoints new leader of forces in Pakistan's tribal areas
Al Qaeda has appointed the current leader of the allied Turkistan Islamic Party to command al Qaeda's forces in Pakistan's tribal areas and organize al Qaeda's training camps there. The move took place just weeks before al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert raid by US SEALs and CIA operatives deep inside Pakistan's northwest.
Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, the chief of the Turkistan Islamic Party, has been given command of al Qaeda's forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas after Saif al Adel left the region, according to the Karachi Islam, an Urdu-language newspaper that supports the Taliban and jihadist groups. Karachi Islam is associated with the Al Rashid Trust, a charity that serves as an al Qaeda front. The Al Rashid Trust was placed on the list of specially designated terrorist entities just 11 days after al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US.
Al Adel, who is al Qaeda's top military strategist and planner, had arrived in Pakistan in 2010 but left Pakistan's tribal areas in April this year due to concerns over the US Predator airstrikes that have targeted and killed top leaders of al Qaeda and allied terror groups. Prior his recent stay in Pakistan, al Adel had been based in Iran after fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001 along with scores of top al Qaeda leaders and their families. Al Adel is also considered as a possible successor to bin Laden.
The appointment of Abdul Shakoor to succeed Saif al Adel as al Qaeda's leader in the tribal areas was made some time in mid- to late April, according to Karachi Islam. Al Adel's location has not been disclosed.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that the Karachi Islam report is "credible," and that Abdul Shakoor is believed to be in control of al Qaeda's forces in the tribal areas. The officials would not comment on the location of Saif al Adel.
In addition to leading al Qaeda's network in Pakistan's tribal areas, Abdul Shakoor "is now supervising training camps" there, Karachi Islam reported. At these camps, the so-called Punjab Taliban and European Taliban "are being given preference for carrying out attacks in the West and the United States."
Abdul Shakoor also "holds very cordial relations with all the Taliban groups," including with top Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Hakeemullah Mehsud, and Mullah Nazir. These three Pakistani Taliban leaders support and shelter al Qaeda. In a recent interview, Nazir said he was a member of al Qaeda.
Abdul Shakoor took control of the Turkistan Islamic Party after his predecessor, Abdul Haq al Turkistani, was killed in the Feb. 14, 2010 strike on a compound in the village of Zor Babar Aidak near Mir Ali in North Waziristan. The Turkistan Islamic Party is known to operate in the Mir Ali region along with the Islamic Jihad Group, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Members of the Islamic Jihad Group and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are often referred to as 'European Taliban' because many European Muslims and Turks are among their ranks.
US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Shakoor's appointment further highlights the influence that affiliated terror groups have within al Qaeda. Although the Turkistan Islamic Party, a terror group that operates in China and Central Asia, is thought to have scores of fighters in Pakistan's tribal areas, the group's leaders also hold senior positions in al Qaeda. Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the slain former leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, was a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council. In addition to taking command of al Qaeda forces in the tribal areas, Abdul Shakoor is thought to have also been appointed to the Shura Majlis.
Abdul Haq was considered influential enough in al Qaeda and the Taliban's leadership circles that he was dispatched to mediate between rival Taliban groups as well as to represent the Shura Majlis in important military matters. In June 2009, Haq was spotted in Pakistan's tribal areas attending an important meeting with Baitullah Mehsud, then Pakistan's overall Taliban commander. Haq and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders traveled to Pakistan's tribal areas to discuss the Pakistani military's operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the deadly Haqqani Network; and Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda ideologue and propagandist.
Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Abdul Haq ran a training camp for his recruits at al Qaeda's camp in Tora Bora in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province [see LWJ report, "The Uighurs in their own words"]. He later reestablished camps for the Turkistan Islamic Party in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. Twenty-two Turkistan Islamic Party operatives were ultimately captured and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility; since then, 17 of them have been released or transferred to allied governments, and five have been approved for release but have refused resettlement in volunteer countries.