Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and al Qaeda’s Brigade 313.
The US has reportedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al Qaeda’s most dangerous military commanders and strategists, in a Predator airstrike yesterday in South Waziristan.
Kashmiri is said to be one of nine members of the al Qaeda-linked Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, or HUJI, who were killed in yesterday’s Predator airstrike that leveled a compound in the Wana area of South Waziristan.
A Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami spokesman named Abu Hanzla Kashir told Dawn that Kashmiri was killed in the attack. Kashir also threatened to attack the US to avenge Kashmiri’s death.
“We confirm that our Amir (leader) and commander in chief, Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, was martyred in an American drone strike on June 3, 2011, at 11:15 pm,” Kashir told the Pakistani news channel, according to The Telegraph.
“The oppressor US is our only target and, God willing, we will take revenge on the U.S. soon with full force,” Kashir said, according to CNN.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Kashmiri was indeed a target of the attack, but they could not confirm that he was killed.
“HUJI’s statement is a sure sign we got him, we are pretty confident he is dead but we cannot confirm 100 percent,” one official told The Long War Journal. The area where Kashmiri was killed is under Taliban control.
Another HUJI leader, Qari Mohammad Idrees, told The News that Kashmiri was killed after traveling from South Waziristan to North Waziristan in an effort to dodge a rumored Pakistani military offensive.
“We lost our hero finally. He was the hero of Islam, Kashmir and Afghanistan,” Idrees told The News.
The attack took place in an area of South Waziristan controlled by Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander who has proudly admitted he is also an al Qaeda leader. The Pakistani military refuses to move against Nazir as he is considered a “good Taliban” leader because he does not attack the state. Nazir does shelter al Qaeda and other terror groups, and carries out attacks in Afghanistan.
Several other top al Qaeda leaders have been killed by Predator strikes in Nazir’s territories. One of the most senior al Qaeda leaders killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a Predator strike on July 28, 2008. Also killed on Nazir’s turf were Osama al Kini (Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam), al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan; and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, one of al Kini’s senior aides. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Kashmiri’s death would be a major blow to al Qaeda and allied terror groups in the region. He has been seen as one of the contenders to take command of al Qaeda since the death of Osama bin Laden in a May 2, 2011 raid by US SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
US intelligence considers Kashmiri to be one of al Qaeda’s most effective commanders. He served as the operational chief of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an al Qaeda-linked group that operates in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami was designated as a terrorist entity by the US in 2010, and Kashmiri was added to the list of global terrorists for his role in leading HUJI as well as for his links to al Qaeda.
Kashmiri has also been linked to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which has viewed him as an asset due to his prowess in fighting the Indians in Jammu and Kashmir. He is said to have been a member of Pakistan’s Special Services Group, although he denied it in an interview with the Asia Times in 2010. One legend attributed to Kashmiri is that he beheaded a sepoy and presented the head to General Pervez Musharraf.
In late 2003, Kashmiri was detained by Pakistani police for his alleged role in an attempted assassination of Musharraf, but he was inexplicably released in February 2004. Kashmiri resurfaced in 2007 after the Pakistani military assault on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad and assumed command of Brigade 313. Kashmiri expanded Brigade 313’s leadership cadre and rank and file, bringing in members of terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, and a host of other terror groups, as well as members of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.
As the leader of Brigade 313, Kashmiri took little time in turning on select targets in Pakistan. 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. He also orchestrated the 2009 attack on Pakistani Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the assault on a naval base in Karachi in May 2011.
Kashmiri was involved in the assassination of Major General Faisal Alvi, the retired commander of the Special Services Group, in Rawalpindi in late 2008. Alvi was killed just months after sending a letter to General Ashfaz Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s top military officer, in which he threatened to expose two Pakistani generals’ involvement with the Taliban. Also, Kashmiri reportedly drafted a plan to assassinate General Kayani, but the plan was canceled by al Qaeda’s senior leadership.
But Kashmiri’s sights were not limited to Pakistan. He 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 2009.
Al Qaeda recognized Kashmiri’s ability, and he was picked to lead the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army, which operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Kashmiri took control of al Qaeda’s military forces after its prior leader, Abdullah Sa’ad al Libi, was killed in a US Predator airstrike in late 2008.
Kashmiri was well-suited for the role, as he has long had experience in running camps in the region. “Since 2001, Kashmiri has led HUJI training camps that specialized in terrorist operations, military tactics, and cross-border operations, including a militant training center in Miramshah, North Waziristan,” according to the US Treasury report that added him to the list of specially designated global terrorists.
In 2009, al Qaeda give Kashmiri another top role in the terror network: he was appointed to serve as a member of al Qaeda’s external operations network, which is assigned to strike at targets in the West. Kashmiri has been directly linked to one plot in the West. In January 2010, a US federal grand jury indicted Kashmiri for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
For more information on Ilyas Kashmiri and Brigade 313, see LWJ reports, Al Qaeda Brigade 313 website goes online, and US adds Ilyas Kashmiri to list of designated terrorists.