South Waziristan Taliban leader Mullah Nazir [bottom-center].
Mullah Nazir, a senior Taliban leader who has identified himself as a member of al Qaeda, was wounded in a suicide attack today. The bombing also killed six other people.
A teen-aged suicide bomber drove a motorcycle packed with explosives into Nazir’s car as it was parked in the main bazaar in Wana in South Waziristan, a Pakistani official told The New York Times. Nazir was purportedly out of the car and making a phone call when the attack took place. Six people were killed and 12 more were wounded in the suicide attack, Maulana Amir Nawaz, a spokesman for Nazir, told SAMAA.
Nazir was wounded in the leg and treated at a hospital. A Taliban operative in the area told The New York Times that the commander was moved to “an undisclosed location over fears that he could be targeted by an American drone strike.” The US launched a drone strike today in the South Waziristan village of Spin Warzak near Wana; the strike was the first in Pakistan in 36 days.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Nazir has been at odds with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as well as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the past; both groups employ suicide bombers in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Nazir expelled some Uzbeks from his tribal areas in 2007 and 2008, and the move led to small-scale fighting between the groups. But after the Pakistani Army invaded the Mehsud tribal areas in late 2009, Nazir began sheltering the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Wana has been the scene of another suicide attack that targeted a pro-Taliban official. In August 2010, a suicide bomber killed Maulana Noor Mohammed, a former member of Pakistan’s parliament who had served as a negotiator between the Taliban and the government in the past. The blast, which took place at a mosque, killed 25 people. No group claimed credit for the attack.
Mullah Nazir’s Taliban faction is one of four major Taliban groups that have joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda late last year. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; the Haqqani Network; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
Mullah Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times in May 2011, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization.
“Al Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same,” Nazir said. “At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same …. This is wrong that I am anti-al Qaeda. I am part of al Qaeda.”
Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.
In the summer of 2009, the military signed a peace agreement with Nazir stipulating that he would not shelter al Qaeda or members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which were based in the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan. The Pakistani government launched a military operation against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in October 2009, but left Nazir’s areas untouched. Nazir has continued to allow the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other terror groups safe haven in his tribal areas.
Significantly, more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of the peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
In the past, the US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of al Qaeda’s Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army, was killed on June 3, 2011 in a Predator strike in Nazir’s tribal areas. Kashmiri, a longtime jihadist leader in Pakistan, also served on al Qaeda’s external operations council.
Another senior al Qaeda leader 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.
Two other top al Qaeda leaders killed while in Nazir’s care 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. They died in an airstrike in the town of Karikot on Jan. 1, 2009. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In addition, the US believes it killed Abu Zaid al Iraqi during a Feb. 20, 2010 airstrike in Azam Warzak. Abu Zaid was said to be al Qaeda’s top financier in Pakistan. And in another strike in Nazir’s territory in 2010, US Predators killed Abu Hazwa Jawfi, who is said to have led Jundallah, a Pakistani terror group that is based in Karachi and maintains close ties with al Qaeda.
Nazir’s Taliban faction has been the target of US drone strikes in the past. In June, a senior commander for Nazir was killed in one such strike.
Last June, Nazir reacted to the targeting of his forces, al Qaeda, and other groups he is sheltering, by banning polio vaccinations in his areas. He claimed that the program is being used by the US to gather intelligence and conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas. He action followed that of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who shut down the program in North Waziristan earlier that month.