Pakistani al Qaeda 'company' commander praises Mumbai attacker
Asmatullah Muawiya (center). Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
Asmatullah Muawiya, a Pakistani terrorist who serves as one of several al Qaeda "company" commanders, praised two terrorists who were behind some of the largest attacks in India and who were recently executed. Muawiya also said that India will become a major target of terrorist attacks once the US withdraws from the region.
Muawiya, a former Jaish-e-Mohammed commander who is affiliated with both al Qaeda and the so-called Punjabi Taliban, released a statement praising Ajmal Kasab, a participant in the November 2008 assault on Mumbai, and Afzal Guru, a member of the team that attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December 2001. Muawiya's statement was published on the jihadist Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum on Feb. 24, and was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Kasab was "a true mujahid. He was among us, he was ours, a native of Pakistan," Muawiya said.
Kasab was the only surviving member of the 10-man Lashkar-e-Taiba assault team that shut down the city of Mumbai for 60 hours at the end of November 2008. The Lashkar-e-Taiba assault team attacked multiple targets, including hotels, a train station, and a Jewish center, and killed 166 people during the attack. The Indian government executed Kasab in November 2012.
Al Qaeda is said to have had a role in the planning for Mumbai and the training of the Lashkar-e-Taiba assault team. Several of the documents seized at Osama bin Laden's compound "suggested a much larger direct al Qaeda role in the planning of the Mumbai attacks than many assumed," according to Bruce Reidel, a former adviser to the Obama administration. And bin Laden may have seen surveillance reports prepared by David Headley, the Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who scouted out locations for the Mumbai siege [see LWJ report, Report: Osama bin Laden helped plan Mumbai attacks].
Additionally, Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, the alleged facilitator of the Mumbai attack, revealed that al Qaeda was tasked with training the Mumbai attackers in a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) training camp close to the Pakistan-Iran border [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda trained Mumbai attackers].
Afzal Guru was involved with in the assault on the Indian Parliament building on Dec. 13, 2001, which was a joint Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed operation. Five policemen, a security guard, and a civilian were killed during the attack. The Indian government executed Guru in February.
Muawiya said that their executions would only strengthen the jihadists' resolve to attack India and liberate the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
"The blood of Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab will multiply the rise of this jihadi tide," Muawiya said, according to SITE.
Muawiya also threatened that attacks in India will increase as jihadists shift their focus from Afghanistan to India and Kashmir after the US withdraws from the region.
"This should indicate the new target of mujahideen after the US leaves the region in a humiliating manner," Muawiya said. "Out of their love for Kashmir, and their religious fervor, the mujahideen will opt for Kashmir. This time American will not be in position to influence the events in the region."
Muawiya's statement hinted at the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate's ties to jihadist groups, and predicted that the ISI will not be able to control the groups that it has supported and directed in the past.
"Helpless in the face of jihadi strikes, the Pakistani government will not be able to defend India," he noted. "This time when jihad rises with new courage and dedication, it will be pure from the ISI's [Inter-Services Intelligence] cursed shadow. It is possible that ISI might opt for a smaller role in this situation."
An al Qaeda commander
Muawiya is one of several al Qaeda "company" commanders, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal in May 2012. Atiyah Adl al Rahman and Abu Yayha al Libi, two top aides to Osama bin Laden who have since been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan, mentioned the existence of these companies in a December 2010 letter addressed to Hakeemullah Mehsud, the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan [see LWJ report, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan].
The US killed Badr Mansoor, the head of one such company, in a drone strike in early 2012. Mansoor had been directly named as a company commander by Atiyah and al Libi in their December 2010 letter. Al Qaeda swiftly designated Farman Shinwari as Mansoor's successor. Like Mansoor, Shinwari has close ties to Pakistani terror groups, and specifically the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.
Muawiya is an influential commander who leads "several hundred jihadis" in Pakistan's tribal areas and in Punjab province, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in May 2012. Other companies include Ilyas Kashmiri's Brigade 313 and the Qari Zafr Group. These groups are commonly referred to as the Punjabi Taliban.
When leadership positions traditionally held by Arabs or Africans become vacant due to drone strikes, al Qaeda has often backfilled them with Pakistani jihadist commanders from groups such as the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jundallah (the Karachi-based, al Qaeda-linked group), and several other Pakistani terror groups.