Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) announced today that the US killed two of its senior leaders in separate drone strikes at the beginning of the year. Ustad Ahmad Farooq, the deputy emir for AQIS, and Qari ‘Imran, a member of the group’s shura, or executive council, who also commanded al Qaeda’s forces in Afghanistan, were both killed in areas administered by Taliban commanders on good terms with the Pakistani state.
Usama Mahmood, the spokesman for AQIS, announced the death of the two leaders on his Twitter account as well as in a lengthy 47-minute-long eulogy that was produced by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s official media outlet, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Both drone strikes were previously reported in the Pakistani and Western press.
Farooq was killed on Jan. 15, Mahmood stated. US drones struck a compound in the Wacha Dara area in South Waziristan on that day. Seven jihadists, including two Uzbeks, were reported to have been killed in the strike.
Farooq was killed in an area that is administered by Sajna Mehsud, who heads a splinter faction that broke away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in May 2014 due to a leadership dispute. Sajna, who is said to support peace talks and has allied with North Waziristan Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar, formed the Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan.
Farooq was previously rumored to have been killed at least twice in the past four years. In June 2011, he was said to have been killed in a drone strike that killed al Qaeda military leader Ilyas Kashmiri. And in December 2014, an al Qaeda commander identified as Omar Farooq was reported to have been killed in a drone strike. It appeared at the time that Omar Farooq had been misidentified as Ustad Ahmad Farooq in the Western and Pakistani press. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda commander reported killed in drone strike in Pakistan and Senior al Qaeda leader returns to Twitter, praises ‘martyrs’.]
‘Imran was killed on Jan. 5, according to Mahmood. The US is known to have launched a strike on Jan. 4 on a compound in the village of Wacha Basti in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. Eight people, including an unidentified “high-value target,” were initially reported to have been killed in the strike, Dawn reported at the time.
The compound belonged “to an Uzbek commander of the Taliban’s Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group.” Hafiz Gul Bahadar is the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan, and administers the jihadist haven of Datta Khel. He is favored by the Pakistani military and government as a “good Taliban,” because he does not advocate attacking the Pakistani state.
US targets AQIS leaders since formation
The US has killed three other senior members of AQIS since the group was formed in early September 2014.
On Oct. 11, US drones killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), a veteran jihadist who served on AQIS’s shura, in an attack in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Khyber.
In addition, AQIS reported that US forces killed Dr. Sarbaland (Abu Khalid) and Adil Abdul Quoos. Two of Sarbaland’s sons were also killed. Sarbaland and Quoos were described as senior AQIS leaders. Quoos, a former major in the Pakistani Army who was charged with subversive activities, has been directly linked to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an architect of 9/11. Sarbaland was an AQIS propagandist.
Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was formed on Sept. 3 and includes elements of some of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India’s most prominent jihadist groups. Since its formation, AQIS claimed credit for a failed Sept. 6 attack on a Pakistani naval vessel. During the operation, jihadists attempted to hijack the ship and fire missiles at US warships in the Indian Ocean. According to both the terrorist group and Pakistan’s defense minister, Pakistani naval officers were complicit in the attack. [See LWJ Report, AQIS claims plot to strike US warships was executed by Pakistani Navy officers.]
Farooq part of al Qaeda’s new generation of leaders
Earlier this year, several letters between Osama bin Laden and Atiyah abd al Rahman, a senior al Qaeda manager killed in a US airstrike in 2011, were introduced as evidence in the Brooklyn trial of an al Qaeda recruit. Most of the letters, which were not released previously, were written in 2010, during the peak of the US drone campaign in northern Pakistan.
The letters confirm what was known from other sources: Al Qaeda lost a significant number of leaders in the US airstrikes. But the letters also show that al Qaeda was taking steps to rejuvenate its leadership cadre.
In one letter to bin Laden, dated Nov. 23, 2010, Rahman listed a number of “brothers who are prepared for responsibilities in the future.” One of them was a “Pakistani brother named Ahmad Faruq,” who was “in charge of Al Sahab in Urdu.”
That is, Farooq was in charge of al Qaeda’s Urdu propaganda arm. Indeed, Farooq was featured prominently in As Sahab’s propaganda, including a video marking the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2012. Prior to his death, al Qaeda obscured Farooq’s face from public view in its propaganda productions.
Rahman described Farooq as “a good man,” who “knows Arabic well,” “has good management [skills]” and a “sound mind.” Farooq, Rahman wrote, was “cultured” and “strong-willed.”
“We may invite him to join us in the Shura [consultative] this time, with Allah’s help,” Rahman explained to bin Laden. Rahman’s words indicate just how highly al Qaeda thought of Farooq, as only elite members of the organization are invited to join the shura council.
Farooq’s prominent role drew fierce criticism from al Qaeda’s rivals in the Islamic State. The ninth edition of the Islamic State’s English-language magazine, Dabiq, features a piece by an al Qaeda defector known as Abu Jarir ash-Shamali. [See LWJ report, The Islamic State’s curious cover story.]
Shamali argued that al Qaeda had been corrupted by the influence of the Taliban and its Deobandi version of Islam. Shamali even used the word “Deobandis” as a pejorative to describe the two principal leaders of AQIS, Asim Umar and Ahmad Farooq.
Al Qaeda “handed” them – Umar and Farooq – “the nerve center of the organization…corrupting all that was left,” Shamali wrote.
While Shamali intended to undermine Farooq’s legitimacy, his critique underscored Faruq’s importance to al Qaeda.