Al Qaeda has transferred seven operatives from the Iraq theater to target senior Pakistani leaders. The targets of the planned attacks are President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kiyani, and other senior military officers, cabinet ministers, and provincial leaders.
The seven operatives, who were behind deadly attacks in Iraq, reportedly met in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktia on May 3 to plan the operations, according to a report in the Daily Times. The al Qaeda operatives are assigned to cooperate with the Pakistani Taliban, led by Baitullah Mehsud.
The operatives were identified as Amanullah Afghani, Shahidullah Khan, Maulvi Khalid Shah, Rehmatullah Khan, Abdul Latif Afghani, Muhammad Saeed Bin Talha, Muhammad Shaheen Kawrai, and Ahmed Ali Tanwancy.
A US military intelligence official has confirmed the report in a conversation with The Long War Journal, and said that some of the operatives are members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The location of the meeting, in Paktia province, also indicates involvement with the Haqqani Network, which controls operations in the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost.
The Haqqanis, led by Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence, or ISI. This relationship has allowed the Haqqani network to survive and thrive in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis also control large swaths of North Waziristan, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces.
The meeting in Paktia also highlights the interlinking of operations between al Qaeda and the various Taliban groups. The Haqqani Network, Baitullah Mehsud, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and a host of Taliban and Pakistani jihadi groups coordinate some of the military operations through the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s paramilitary force that operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan. [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’]. The Shadow Army maintains bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as in southern and eastern Afghanistan [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda Shadow Army camps located in northern Helmand].
Al Qaeda has a long history of shifting senior commanders and operatives between the Iraq and Afghan-Pakistan theaters. In late 2007, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, one of Osama bin Laden’s senior deputies who was personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al Qaeda operations in Iraq, was captured trying to enter Iraq. Al Hadi was a senior commander in the Shadow Army. He was captured while trying to enter Iraq via Iran, intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
Al Hadi was al Qaeda’s internal operations chief, an instructor on military operations, and a commander of several al Qaeda training camps inside Afghanistan [see LWJ report Senior Al Qaeda operative Abd al Hadi al Iraqi captured]. Before going to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union, he had been a major in Saddam Hussein’s army. Al Hadi also served on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis as well as on the group’s military shura, which oversaw terrorist and guerrilla operations and paramilitary training.
In September 2006, British forces in Basrah killed Omar Farouq, al Qaeda’s point man and operations chief in Southeast Asia, who was one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants [see LWJ report, International al Qaeda Operative Omar Farouq Killed in Iraq] . Farouq had served for more than a decade with al Qaeda, and had established training camps and conducted attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines. After escaping from Bagram prison with three other senior al Qaeda leaders in July 2005, Farouq was transferred to Iraq, where he was assigned to recruit and direct operations in that country.
During the peak of al Qaeda in Iraq’s strength in 2006, thousands of recruits are said to have been transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan to conduct training.
Several of the Arab brigades of the Shadow Army are led and manned by former members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards as well as by Iraqis, Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians, North Africans, and others.
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