The US State Department said that Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistani jihadist group which is linked to al Qaeda and is active in South Asia, is currently running training camps in Afghanistan.
The State Department made the statement in an update released yesterday to the existing Foreign Terrorist Organization designation for the jihadist group. State’s update added Ansar ul-Ummah as “a front organization” for Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, or HUM. The group has been listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.
“HUM has repeatedly changed its name in an effort to avoid sanctions,” State notes in its designation. “Most recently, HUM created Ansar ul-Ummah as a front organization, claiming that the group was an organization for the preaching of Islam, politics, and social work.”
State described HUM as “a Pakistan-based terrorist organization that seeks the annexation of Kashmir into Pakistan and poses a direct risk to U.S., Afghan, and allied interests in Afghanistan.” According to State, “[t]he group operates in Pakistan, and engages in terrorist activity in Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; its membership composes an estimated several hundred armed supporters.”
“HUM also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in the Kashmir region,” State said. “In 2013, a court in Britain convicted on terrorism charges three individuals alleged to have trained in HUM camps in 2009.”
A follow-up inquiry to State by The Long War Journal confirmed that the HUM camps in eastern Afghanistan are still in operation. The exact locations of the camps were not disclosed.
Other terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, are known to operate training camps in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The US is planning on withdrawing all of its combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 despite the existence of training camps run by global jihadists.
Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen operates freely inside Pakistan, with the permission of the Pakistani establishment, including the military and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, HUM’s leader, lives openly in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad.
Khalil is the man Osama bin Laden consulted before issuing his infamous fatwa declaring war against the US in 1998. Khalil also signed the fatwa. According to the Associated Press, Khalil “dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia, was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”
HUM has been involved in numerous acts of terror in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian airplane, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. [See LWJ report, New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released.]
HUM is one of several jihadist groups that are part of what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described in 2010 as a “syndicate” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region.
“A victory for one [member of the syndicate] is a victory for all,” Gates cautioned. Gates mentioned groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba, as belonging to this “syndicate.” Other groups that figure in this syndicate are the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its offshoot the Islamic Jihad Union, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, among others.
Several al Qaeda leaders have risen from the ranks of HUM. One of the most prominent is Badr Mansoor, an al Qaeda commander who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012. In one of the 17 documents that were released by the US from Osama bin Laden’s collection of thousands seized during the Abbottabad raid, Mansoor was identified as a commander of a “company” of al Qaeda’s forces operating in Pakistan.
At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, with which he was closely linked. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan, and Commander killed in drone strike ‘funneled Pakistani jihadists’ to al Qaeda.]