Abu Sayyaf Group operative and master bombmaker Abdul Basit Usman. Photo from the Rewards for Justice website.
A wanted member of the Philippines-based, al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group is thought to have been killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan last week.
Abu Sayyaf operative and bomb-making expert Abdul Basit Usman is thought to have been killed in an airstrike on Jan. 14 in North Waziristan. Usman is believed to have died in the attack that targeted Taliban chieftain Hakeemullah Mehsud in the Pasalkot region in North Waziristan, an area close to the border with the neighboring tribal agency of South Waziristan.
Ten Taliban and foreign fighters were reported killed in the attack, which hit a madrassa, or religious school, used by Taliban fighters from South Waziristan who dodged the Pakistani Army operation in South Waziristan.
Usman is wanted by the United States for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also has links to Jemaah Islamiyah, al Qaeda’s regional affiliate in Southeast Asia.
“Because of his association with these US Government-designated international terrorist organizations, US authorities consider Basit to be a threat to US and Filipino citizens and interests,” states the Rewards for Justice website. “He is believed to have orchestrated several bombings that have killed, injured, and maimed many innocent civilians.”
The US has put a $1 million reward out for information leading to his capture and prosecution.
It is unclear when Usman entered Pakistan. As of May 2009, the US believed Usman was hiding on the Philippine island of Mindanao.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not confirm Usman’s death, but did say they were investigating the reports.
Usman’s death in North Waziristan, if confirmed, would further reinforce the reports that Pakistan’s tribal areas are a nexus for al Qaeda-linked groups across the globe.
“It isn’t just al Qaeda operating in the tribal areas,” a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “You have Pakistani groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. You have the Uzbek terror groups. You have HuJI (the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, a terror group based in Pakistan and Bangladesh), Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf, you name it.”
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has described this jihadist nexus in Pakistan as “a syndicate of terrorist operators” during his recent visit to India. US military and intelligence officials often privately refer to this alliance as AQAM (al Qaeda and allied movements, or al Qaeda and associated movements).
US intelligence officials have spoken of AQAM’s influence in Pakistan for years. “At times their [AQAM’s] planning, allocation of resources, and operations are indistinguishable,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October 2009. “Their goals are identical; they want to hit us here as well as carve out their caliphate there [in Pakistan and Afghanistan].”
Despite the growth of al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Pakistani military has stated it will not conduct further operations this year to root out the Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens.
“We are not going to conduct any major new operations against the militants over the next 12 months,” Major General Athar Abbas, the top spokesman for the Pakistani military told the BBC in an interview today.
“The Pakistan army is overstretched and it is not in a position to open any new fronts,” Abbas continued. “Obviously, we will continue our present operations in Waziristan and Swat.”
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