The US Department of State has issued multi-million dollar rewards for two senior Taliban leaders and an al Qaeda leader and propagandist.
Up to $5 million dollars has been offered “for information leading to the location and/or capture” of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud or Taliban and al Qaeda ally Sirajuddin Haqqani. A $1 million bounty has been offered for information leading to the capture or conviction of al Qaeda propagandist and ideologue Abu Yahya al Libi.
Baitullah Mehsud from a recent Taliban video.
Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s most powerful Taliban commander
Baitullah Mehsud is the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the unified command of scores of local Taliban fighters throughout the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan. He has also joined hands with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and South Waziristan leaders Mullah Nazir and formed the Council of United Mujahideen. The group has pledged its support to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and overall Taliban commander Mullah Omar, and has vowed to battle the Pakistan, US, and Indian governments.
Based out of South Waziristan, he has become the most prominent Taliban leader in Pakistan. He commands tens of thousands of well-trained fighters, who conduct attacks against Pakistani, Coalition, and Afghan forces. Baitullah’s fighters have defeated the Pakistani Army in several engagements since 2004. In January 2008, the Pakistani Army agreed to a ceasefire after abruptly ending an operation after 10 days of fighting.
Baitullah is closely allied with bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Al Qaeda shelters in Baitullah’s tribal areas and maintains training camps and safe houses in the region.
Baitullah has openly stated his intentions to conduct attacks against the United States and the West. He “poses a clear threat to American persons and interests in the region,” the State Department said.
A poster of the 12 most wanted in Afghanistan released by the US military in August 2007. At the time, Baitullah Mehsud had a $50,000 bounty and Siraj Haqqani had a $200,000 bounty.
Some of the most deadly attacks inside Pakistan have been traced back to Baitullah Mehsud’s suicide bombers. He was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in December 2007, as well as the deadly Marriott Hotel suicide attack in Islamabad in September 2008. Scores of other suicide attacks inside Pakistan have been credited to Baitullah.
In the fall of 2007, the US military offered a $200,000 bounty for Baitullah. A wanted poster pictured Baitullah, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and ten other Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.
Over the past year, the US has conducted six covert airstrikes against safe houses and compounds in Baitullah’s tribal areas. The most recent attack took place today, in Baitullah’s home town of Makeen. Eight Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were killed in the attack on a Taliban convoy.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the deadly Haqqani Network
Siraj is the son of the powerful and respected former Mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani. Siraj runs the Haqqani Network, which is closely allied with al Qaeda and actively recruits foreign fighters into its ranks.
The Haqqani Network operates in the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika and is based out of the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Both Jalaluddin and Siraj have close ties with al Qaeda and bin Laden, as well Sheikh Issa al Masri. Sheikh Issa is the spiritual adviser for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Zawahiri’s organization that merged with al Qaeda, and he is also the leader of al Jihad fi Waziristan, an al Qaeda branch in North Waziristan. Issa has radicalized thousands of Taliban by indoctrinating them with the Wahabbi version of Islam.
The Haqqanis also have extensive links with the Taliban and with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency. The relationship with the ISI has allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. The Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives as well as by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.
Siraj Haqqani has risen in prominence over the past two years. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan and offered a $50,000 reward for his capture during the fall of 2007. He is the senior Taliban military commander in eastern Afghanistan.
Siraj is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, including the military-styled assault on the Serena Hotel and the attack on a parade in Kabul that targeted President Karzai. Most recently, a Haqqani Network suicide bomber killed 14 school children and 11 other Afghans in a suicide attack outside an outpost in Khost.
The US military has conducted multiple cross-border airstrikes against the Haqqani Network’s infrastructure in North Waziristan. Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan as well as the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was killed in a strike in January 2008 in one of more than a dozen strikes against Haqqani compounds in North Waziristan. The US also targeted the Haqqani-run Manba Ulom madrassa, which has served as a command center and meeting place for al Qaeda and Haqqani operatives.
The Bagram Four:
Abu Abdallah al Shami (upper left); Abu Nasir al Qahtani (upper right); Abu Yahya al Libi (lower left); Omar al Farouq (lower right).
Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda propagandist and ideologue
Abu Yahya al Libi was a military commander in Afghanistan until his capture by the US military during 2003. He rose to prominence in al Qaeda after he escaped from Bagram Prison in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005, along with senior al Qaeda operatives Abu Nasir al Qahtani, Abu Abdallah al Shami, and Omar Farouq.
Al Libi is the only member of the notorious “Bagram Four” active in al Qaeda. Two of his fellow escapees have been killed and another has been captured since the 2005 escape. British forces killed Omar Farouq as he attempted to infiltrate Basrah, Iraq in 2006. After his escape from Bagram, Farouq was reassigned to Iraq to facilitate the flow of money, weapons, and fighters for al Qaeda in Iraq. Qahtani was captured in Afghanistan in November 2006. Al Shami was killed during fighting in Afghanistan in the summer of 2008.
Al Libi has become one of the most prolific al Qaeda propagandists. He has appeared in more al Qaeda propaganda tapes since 2006 than any other member of the terror group, including bin Laden and Zawahiri.
He has weighed in on some of the most controversial and important issues on al Qaeda’s agenda. He was the first al Qaeda leader to urge the Pakistani people and the Army to turn against then-President Pervez Musharraf’s regime after the military stormed the radical Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad. Zawahiri and bin Laden have repeated this call to rebellion several times since then.
Recently al Libi called on Somalis to fight the government and oust President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the former leader of al Qaeda ally the Islamic Courts Union. One month later, bin Laden reiterated the call.
Al Libi is a senior leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamist terror group that was officially welcomed into the al Qaeda fold in November 2007. Zawahri and Abu Laith al Libi released a videotape announcing the merger.
Al Libi has also chastised Islamists who have denounced al Qaeda’s methods and ideology. He urged clerics to come fight against Americans and NATO and wage real jihad before criticizing the group.
For more information on the Haqqani Network, see:
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.