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