Questions emerge over HUJI's statement on al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri's death


Kashmiri-before-after-dead-SITE.JPG

Left: a purported photograph of Ilyas Kashmiri after his death. The picture is actually that of Abu Dera Ismael Khan, a Lashkar-e-Taiba fighter who was a member of the suicide assault team that attacked Mumbai, India, in November 2008. Right: Ilyas Kashmiri before his death. The image on the left is published courtesy of the SITE Intelligence Group.

Questions are emerging about the validity of a statement released by a Pakistani terror group that claimed its leader, Ilyas Kashmiri, was killed in a US Predator airstrike late last week. A photo purporting to show Kashmiri after his death is actually a picture of a jihadi killed during the Mumbai, India terror assault in November 2008, and discrepancies in the text of the statement have also emerged.

Kashmiri, a senior al Qaeda military commander as well as the leader of Harkat ul Jihad-al-Islami [HUJI] and Brigade 313, is said to have been killed in the June 2 Predator airstrike in the Wana area of South Waziristan. Less than one day after the strike, Abu Hanzla Kashir, a HUJI spokesman, issued a written statement that announced Kashmiri's death, and vowed to attack the US.

"On behalf of Harkat Jihad al-Islami 313 Brigade we confirm the fact that our leader and Commander-in-chief Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, have been martyred in an American drone attack at 11:15 pm on June 3, 2011 and Insha Allah (God willing) the present pharaoh America will see our full revenge very soon. Our only target is America," Kashir said, according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The statement was then posted on the Shamukh al Islam forum, a website frequented by jihadists close to al Qaeda, along with an image purported to be that of Kashmiri's face after his death.

But it has been discovered that the photograph, said to depict the slain Kashmiri, is in fact that of Abu Dera Ismael Khan, a Lashkar-e-Taiba fighter who was a member of the suicide assault team that attacked Mumbai, India, in November 2008. Also, the original statement released by HUJI contained misspellings of the terror group's name, Arif Rafiq, the Editor of The Pakistan Policy Blog, told The Long War Journal.

"Though [HUJI is] a Pakistani organization, the group's name is actually in Arabic," Rafiq said. "The group's name is Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami. But the guy who wrote the letter [Abu Hanzla Kashir] misspelled the name in the two instances he used it," Rafiq said. "First, he wrote Harkat-e Jihad al-Islami (grammatically incorrect in both Arabic and Urdu); then, he wrote Harkat-e Jihad-e Islami (grammatically correct in Urdu, both not the official name)."

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they still could not confirm if Kashmiri was killed in the June 2 strike in South Waziristan. The US intelligence officials said that the discrepancies with the photo and the statement make it difficult to determine whether Kashmiri was actually killed or if he survived the strike.

"We can't go in there; we don't have DNA to test," one official said.

Another US intelligence official said it is possible that the reports of Kashmiri's death may be a part of a "denial and deception" campaign by al Qaeda and HUJI intended to throw the US off the scent of Kashmiri. The official added, however, that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terror groups have not used martyrdom statements to fake the death of senior leaders in the past.

Several local Taliban leaders, including Mullah Nazir's spokesman, another HUJI leader named Qari Mohammad Idrees, and the Political Agent for South Waziristan, all claimed that Kashmiri was killed, as have unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials.

Kashmiri is one of the most hunted al Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan border area. He leads al Qaeda military forces in the region, and is one of three members of al Qaeda's external operations council, which is assigned to directing attacks against the US and Western allies.

For more information on Ilyas Kashmiri and the initial report of his death, see LWJ report, Top al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri killed in US Predator strike.



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READER COMMENTS: "Questions emerge over HUJI's statement on al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri's death"

Posted by Bing at June 5, 2011 9:54 PM ET:

The beast is evolving its tactics it seems.

Posted by JT at June 5, 2011 9:54 PM ET:

With OBL finally getting taken out, I suppose that the terrorist/militant/extremist groups are much more likely to pretend someone got killed, to take the pressure off for a while.

Until now, they have at least been honest when big fish got hooked, for the most part. Everything else (e.g., number of infidel fighters killed, etc.) has been a different story.

Posted by villiger at June 5, 2011 10:50 PM ET:

In retrospect, this is beginning to look like a (partially) successful attempt by Syed Shahzad's murderers' to create a bigger story, in order to push and hasten that dastardly act out of the news cycle, by faking an overshadow.

We'll see...

But the Shahzad story is not going to disappear that easily. Lets wait to see what was in Part 2 of his story (re: training camps?, although the RealNews interview said it all). And more importantly how Pak society responds to this murder. And to the increasing clarity on the cracks and corruption of Kayani's army, and an ISI that is out of control.

The Pak army has created an incredibly pervasively violent society. What hope is there for Pakistan?

Posted by naresh c. at June 5, 2011 11:29 PM ET:

Rehman Malik, the Pakistani information minister, said he was 98% sure that Kashmiri was killed. He also said that he was '200%' sure that Pakistani nukes were safe. The second statement shows that he lacks elementary knowledge of percentages and probability. That makes you doubt how he came up with 98% figure for the first statement. Can the generous US please give Pakistan some money for learning elementary arithmetic before it gives them F16s and P3C Orions?

Posted by KD at June 6, 2011 12:22 AM ET:

Definitely not Illyas Kashmiri:

Looks like it is part of a growing deception strategy to provide even more protection if the hypothesis of IK being the next contender of ALQ's (and or others') chief strategist.

5 reasons to believe that the purported photograph is fake:

1) Photo published earlier in a french e-media article. (www.rfi.fr)

2) Look closely into the dental construct patterns: The dental gaps between the central, lateral and canine in the purported photograph significantly reinforce the fact that it is not IK (as shown in his actual pic(s)).

3) Critical outer ear anatomy do not match for reasons that the Antihelical fold is significantly flat (in the lower half of the pinna) in the purported photograph when compared to IK's right view of the pinna characteristics from other photographs.

4) The ala and dorsum portion of the nose is significantly different (very prominent) in the purported photograph while that of IK from any other photographs it is not.

5) Why would IK clean shave out of the blue? Even if he did as part of a deception strategy the skull construct do not match.


Hence unthoughtful extrapolation, that past behavior of terror missionaries to have not used martyrdom statements to fake deaths, shall act as a new deception tool.

Posted by GB at June 6, 2011 12:40 AM ET:

There is certainly something fishy going on here. I find it hard to believe that HUJI made a mistake and posted the wrong picture. This brings to mind the recent (false?) stories of Mullah Omar being killed. Perhaps they really are trying to spread disinformation to throw off American intelligence.

One should look at past HUJI martyrdom statements to see if there is any significant discrepancies. If they are trying too hard to prove Kashmiri's death, then theres a good chance that they are hiding something.

Posted by kulamarva balakrishna at June 6, 2011 1:54 AM ET:

Vienna,06-06-2011
Even though deception is not ruled out,who could be behind
the deception Al Queda or ISI if indeed the death report is
divert and deceive . I have indication that ISI is on the
offensive to rehabilitate its image even after the killing of
Syed Saleem Shahzad. It touches the heart of the matter
citing The New York Times masthead " all news fit to print" implying there are exceptional reasons to spike them say
for example in American language "homeland security
interest" that is "press freedom" must be circumscribed
a la Islamic fashion in Pakistan! I intend to publish the
letter in context at myspace.com/taravadu. As for Shahzad,
Asiatimes Online publishers are creating a trust fund. I hope
to contribute there instead of a split Pakistani scribes group
with claimed membership of over 16,000.
-Kulamarva Balakrishna

Posted by BullsEye at June 6, 2011 3:21 AM ET:

What better way to survive than to appear dead and gone but in fact be alive and plotting.

Ilyas is in a different league compared to other jihadis in his area. This guy has to be taken out ASAP.

Posted by michael at June 6, 2011 9:32 AM ET:

Ilyas Kashmiri is certainly sufficiently cunning to fake his own death. But if he had wanted to fake his own death, he would certainly have done so in a professional way - not with typing errors, wrong pictures etc.
In all likelihood he's dead.


Posted by James at June 6, 2011 12:22 PM ET:

It appears obvious to me that they have now resorted to a strategy of 'playing possum,' at least in certain scenarios.

This should come as no surprise. As a matter of fact, I've wondered what took them so long to think of it. I mean, these are individuals that will resort to strategies such as dressing up like woman to escape detection and slaughtering innocent civilians at bakeries and bus stops to name but a few.

My educated guess is that the drone strike did target him but either missed and/or our guys were given erroneous information (whether deliberately or accidentally, I can't say which).

Also, the lenghts our government went through in disposing of bin laden's corpse may have encouraged this strategy on the part of the terrorists.

Posted by kp at June 6, 2011 3:45 PM ET:

One might think that a believable HUJI "deception operation" might not look so badly put together as this one. After all the whole point of a deception op is to make the other side believe it.

One would follow standard protocol. Wait a day or two or seven or thirty and release a proper video or a proper matyrdom announcement. You wouldn't release a handwritten piece of paper (the images are on the net) in which you misspell the name of your org twice (though one might forgive a Arabic speaker writing in Urdu one of the mistakes). And you certainly wouldn't send a photo of an already dead LeT terrorist that people are going to figure out (in hours!) is not real.

Is there a codeword or some other authentication of the the fax? In which case I'd discount it.

But I wouldn't be so quick in discounting the possible killing of IK. The CIA I'm sure know if they got IK or not from the video they took. They will not be deceived by a simple deception op. They watched the meeting form up and struck it. Then watched the aftermath and probably dispersal. The apparent Monday follow-up attacks seem to bear out a chain or intel that they've followed.

Perhaps they were just targeting an important meeting (and weren't going after IK he just happened to be there). Perhaps they were after the AQ spokesman (and other senior folks). Or perhaps they new this was a HUJI/AQ meeting. Or perhaps they knew IK had moved to SW and this was the chance to get him in a meeting with other AQ and senior HUJI.

The CIA know what they know. And they're not telling.

Posted by Abu Samuel at June 7, 2011 10:26 AM ET:

At this time the authenticity of the letter said to be from a HUJI spokesman cannot be verified.
Several questions have to be asked:

Does the statement fit the form and pattern of HUJI statements?
Given that the 'spokesman' for HUJI in this statement is previously unknown, are there any already known spokesmen that this could/should have come from?

The fact that the photo provided is demonstrably false also raises questions regarding the authenticity of the statement. I can think of no possible motive as to why a jihadist organisation would issue the wrong photo of a 'martyr' in a statement conveying news of his death.

I would be wary of accepting the statement as either evidence of Kasmiri's death or as a sign (given the red flags) that this could be a evidence of a new "denial and deception" campaign.

A policy of 'wait and see' is probably most advisable in this case.


Posted by netphone at June 8, 2011 2:00 AM ET:

This should come as no surprise. As a matter of fact, I've wondered what took them so long to think of it.
Is there a codeword or some other authentication of the the fax? In which case I'd discount it.