Abu Hafs al Shahri. Image from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior.
A terrorist who US officials claimed is al Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan is thought to have been killed in a recent Predator airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal areas.
The al Qaeda leader was identified as Abu Hafs al Shahri, a Saudi citizen, and is said to play a key role in coordinating al Qaeda operations and attacks in Pakistan with Hakeemullah Mehsud’s Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, US officials told Reuters.
Abu Hafs al Shahri is a nom de guerre for Osama Hamud Gharman al Shahri, who was on Saudi Arabia’s list of 85-most-wanted terrorists that was released in 2009. He is reported to have spent time in Syria before traveling to Afghanistan, and served as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden.
One official told Reuters agency that Shahri was “a contender” to take over some of the duties of Atiyah Abd al Rahman, a top al Qaeda leader who is thought to have been killed in a Predator strike on Aug. 22. Atiyah’s death has not been confirmed as al Qaeda has not announced his death [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda releases Ramadan tape by Atiyah Abd al Rahman; and Threat Matrix report, ‘Attiya Allah’ authors article in latest edition of al Qaeda magazine].
US officials did not state exactly when Shahri was killed, only that he was killed in the past several days. However, there has been only one reported US airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal agency since the Aug. 22 strike that reportedly killed Atiyah. The only strike since then took place in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan on Sept. 11. A Haqqani Network commander named Hafeezullah and a “foreigner,” a term often used to describe Arabs and other non-Pakistanis, were among four “militants” reported killed.
Al Qaeda has not released a martyrdom statement announcing Shahri’s death. It is unclear how US officials determined that he was killed. As North Waziristan is under Taliban control, it is difficult to obtain physical evidence that a terrorist is indeed dead.
One US official described Shahri’s death as the latest major blow to the terror network based in Pakistan.
“The loss of their chief of operations in Pakistan, an individual who played a key operational and administrative role for the group, will pose a challenge for (Ayman) Zawahiri,” the new emir of al Qaeda, Reuters was told by the official.
It is unclear, however, whether Shahri is even al Qaeda’s head of operations in Pakistan or its main liaison to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. In April, Karachi Islam, an Urdu-language newspaper that supports the Taliban and jihadist groups, reported that Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, the chief of the Turkistan Islamic Party, was given command of al Qaeda’s forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas after Saif al Adel left the region. Karachi Islam is associated with the Al Rashid Trust, a charity that serves as an al Qaeda front. [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda appoints new leader of forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas].
Also, on Aug. 31, the Asia Times identified Turkistani as the head of al Qaeda’s operations in the tribal areas and its prime link to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
If Shahri is confirmed killed, he would be the second senior al Qaeda leader killed or captured in Pakistan in the past two weeks. On Sept. 5, the Pakistani military announced it captured Younis al Mauritani, who is a member of the terror group’s external operations council.