Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and al Qaeda’s Brigade 313.
The Asia Times‘ Syed Saleem Shahzad has published his interview with Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior al Qaeda leader and longtime Pakistani jihadi with strong ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence services who was thought to have been killed in a US airstrike in mid-September. As the operations chief of Brigade 313, one of six brigades in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s “Shadow Army,” Kashmiri is suspected of planning and leading some of the terror group’s most sophisticated assaults in the Afghan-Pakistan theater.
Kashmiri is described by Shahzad as being essentially the military operations chief of al Qaeda:
If today al-Qaeda is divided into three spheres, Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly the symbol of the movement and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri defines al-Qaeda’s ideology and broader strategic vision. Ilyas, with his unmatched guerrilla expertise, turns the strategic vision into reality, provides the resources and gets targets achieved, but he chooses to remain in the background and very low key.
This is interesting. Saif al Adel is often described to me as al Qaeda’s equivalent of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary rolled into one person, while Abdullah Sa’id is the head of al Qaeda’s Shadow Army (the Lashkar al Zil). Kashmiri has been described as the operations commander of Brigade 313, but Shahzad’s description indicates he is far higher is the pecking order than that.
The interview is sure to stir some controversy among those who follow the region. For instance, Shahzad claimed Kashmiri is not a former commando in Pakistan’s Special Services Group (other Pakistani journalists and my sources maintain that he is). Shahzad repeats a story of Indian troops kidnapping and beheading civilians for sport, and Kashmiri’s attacking to avenge the acts (Indians maintain this never happened, I have yet to see evidence it has).
Kashmiri claims that al Qaeda’s goal remains focused on defeating the “Great Satan” – the US – and that Afghanistan has been a trap for US and Western forces.
Kashmiri also intimates that a new round of Mumbai-styled attacks is forthcoming:
“So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?” I asked. [Shahzad]
“That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future,” Ilyas replied.
“Even against Israel and the USA?” I asked.
“Saleem, I am not a traditional jihadi cleric who is involved in sloganeering. As a military commander, I would say every target has a specific time and reasons, and the responses will be forthcoming accordingly,” Ilyas said.
The jihadi nexus has already carried out several such attacks in Pakistan, including last weekend’s assault on Pakistan’s Army headquarters. Kashmir’s understudy, Dr. Usman, led the attack.
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