Three jihadist groups, including one led by a key commander who has served as a senior leader in al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have united with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The merger is part of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s efforts to rebuild itself, likely with the guidance of al Qaeda. The jihadist organization split in 2014 after a contentious leadership dispute that festered when the US killed the group’s former emir, Hakeemullah Mehsud, in a drone strike.
Muhammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP), announced today that three outfits led by “Commander Qari Matiur Rehman,” “Commander Qari Ehsanul Haq,” and “Commander Muhammad Shamil,” merged with the overarching Taliban group, according to a translation of a statement that was obtained by The Long War Journal.
Rehman, who is “also known as Commander Abdul Samad” and has served as a senior leader in al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, leads all three groups within the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
“All three of these groups united under the leadership of the respected Commander Matiur Rehman, may God protect him, and became a part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan],” Khurasani said in a statement that was issued on Umar Media, the official website of the group.
Khurasani said that the three jihadist entities “were always important groups in the jihad of Pakistan and have been since the beginning. ”
“Prior to this, these organizations worked with and cooperated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, but were not officially part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan,” he continued.
The merger is part of Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s attempt to rebuilt its shattered image in the wake of the 2014 death of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group’s former emir. The Taliban appointed Mullah Fazlullah to lead the TTP, but multiple factions were unhappy with the choice and split, including two Mehsud factions in North and South Waziristan, and a large branch led by Omar Khalid Khorasani. But Omar Khalid Khorasani’s faction (Jamaat-ul Ahrar) and Lashkar-e-Islam joined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan early last month as part of the effort to mend the rift between the jihadist groups. [See LWJ report, Pakistani jihadist groups, Lashkar-i-Islam merge into the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.]
Given Rehman’s profile within al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, it is highly likely that his merger with the TTP was directed by al Qaeda’s top leadership. In fact, Rehman remains a part of al Qaeda’s leadership cadre. According to The News, Rehman is still “a close aide and a logistics provider of Ayman al-Zawahiri.”
Rehman an established al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader
The three most recent groups to join with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan are part of what a US intelligence official had previously described to The Long War Journal as “the deep bench of Pakistani jihadists who have stepped in to fill mid and senior-level leadership positions in al Qaeda” as the terror group’s legacy leaders have been killed in drone strikes. Leaders and operatives who are part of this “deep bench” often wear multiple hats, or serve with multiple jihadist groups.
Matiur Rehman is a prime example of a dual-hatted Pakistani jihadist. He has been described by US intelligence officials as a top operational leader and manager of al Qaeda’s ‘Rolodex’ of fighters who have passed through training camps and safe houses. He is also thought to have served as a member of al Qaeda’s external operations council, which is tasked with striking Western interests.
The US Treasury Department added Rehman to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in December 2010. In its designation, Treasury described Rehman as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s “chief operational commander” and as “a planning director for al Qaeda.” [See LWJ report, US designates Pakistan-based leaders of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed as terrorists.]
Rehman has been tied to multiple plots against the West, including the 2006 London airline plot. The foiled attack, which has been called the “son of Bojinka,” was modeled after the 1995 Bojinka plot devised by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his nephew Ramzi Yousef. Rehman also assisted Adnan el Shukrijumah in training the al Qaeda operatives who planned to attack trains in the New York City area in 2009. Shukrijumah is another top al Qaeda leader who served as al Qaeda operations chief for North America before he was killed by Pakistani troops in North Waziristan last year.
“Rehman has also been implicated in plots or attacks against a former Pakistani president, a former Pakistani prime minister, and the US consulate in Karachi,” Treasury stated in its designation of Rehman.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is an anti-Shiite terror organization that has integrated with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The group has an extensive network in Pakistan and often serves as al Qaeda’s muscle for terror attacks. It has conducted numerous suicide and other terror attacks inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. In particular, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is well known for carrying out sectarian terror attacks against minority Shiites, Ahmadis, Sufis, and Christians in Pakistan.
The US designated the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2003. In addition to Rehman, the US added Amanullah Afridi to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in 2010.
Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi commanders have also been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In February 2010, the US killed Qari Mohammad Zafar, a senior Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader as well as a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam, in a drone strike in North Waziristan. Zafar was behind multiple terror attacks in Pakistan and was wanted by the US for murdering a consular official in Karachi.
Given Rehman’s links to al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi, and his established connections to jihadist groups in the region, his merger with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan will likely increase the effectiveness of the TTP inside Pakistan and beyond.
Correction: Adnan el Shukrijumah was killed by Pakistani troops in South Waziristan, not in a US drone strike as first stated.