Top link between al Qaeda and Taliban thought killed in US Predator strike in Khyber

A Taliban commander who serves as a key link to al Qaeda and who carried out the assassination of a former Pakistani prime minister is said to have been killed in a US predator strike in Khyber in mid-May.

The commander, Ebad-ul-Rehman, is thought to have been killed in a May 15 airstrike in the Tirah Valley in the Khyber tribal agency along with his brother Yousaf, eight Uzbek fighters, and three Taliban fighters, The News reported. Two civilians, a woman and a child, were also said to have been killed in an attack that targeted a Taliban compound and training camp. The strike was the first by the US in Khyber.

Pakistani intelligence officials said they are certain Rehman is dead, but do not have positive confirmation, The News reported. “The rest 5 per cent confirmation can only be obtained through DNA testing and we do not have access to the body,” an official told the Pakistani news agency. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not confirm Rehman’s death.

Rehman, who is also known as Farooq Chatan, exemplifies the new breed of jihadist that is being cultivated in Pakistan’s northwest, US military intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Rehman, who rose in the Taliban ranks in the northwestern district of Malakand, serves as a key link between the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.

Although he was a Taliban commander, Rehman also was a key adviser to Abu Ubaidah al Masri, al Qaeda’s former external operations chief. Ubaidah fell ill from complications of hepatitis and died in early 2008.

Rehman is said to have served on the shura, or main council, for Ubaidah’s external operations, along with other Taliban fighters. Ubaidah was ordered by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s top council, the Shura Majlis, to assassinate former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto after her return to Pakistan in October 2007.

Ubaidah is said to have tasked Rehman with organizing the cells and coordinating Bhutto’s murder. Rehman received operatives and logistical support from Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and the so-called Punjabi Taliban. Bhutto was eventually killed in a shooting and suicide attack on Dec. 27, 2007.

Bhutto’s assassination highlights the integration of the Pakistani Taliban with al Qaeda

The assassination of Bhutto was part of al Qaeda’s plan to draw the various Taliban and allied jihadist groups into open war against the Pakistani state, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda openly declared war against the Pakistani state immediately after the Pakistani Army launched an assault against the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad in July 2007. The Red Mosque was run by two radical clerics who attempted to impose sharia, or Islamic law, by force in the capital. More than 100 people were killed in the assault, including one of the two senior clerics, which inflamed the jihadist groups.

Al Qaeda immediately capitalized on this anger and led the charge in declaring war against the Pakistani state. The first declaration of war was made on Aug. 1, 2007, by Abu Yahya al Libi, a top ideologue and propagandist for the group.

“Go to battle together in order to be rid of this infidel tyrant [then President General Pervez Musharraf] and remove his heretic secular rule,” al Libi told the Pakistani people. “May you pound away at his fragile army, at his swarms of intelligence miscreants and the fortresses of his unbelieving control. Take example from your neighbors, the brave people of Afghanistan.”

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, repeated several times al Libi’s call for the Pakistani people to overthrow the state. In February 2009, Zawahiri compared the Pakistani Taliban’s battle against the government to the Afghan Taliban’s fight against Coalition and Afghan forces, and said the groups were fighting for the same causes.

“Your brothers in the Taliban are not fighting to liberate Afghanistan only, but also the Taliban in Pakistan are carrying out jihad to purge Pakistan from the United States and its agents in the Pakistani Government and army,” Zawahiri said.

Al Qaeda’s overarching strategy to consolidate the disparate Pakistani jihadist groups under a single banner has largely proven successful, intelligence officials said. The formation of the Punjabi Taliban is pointed to as a major victory for al Qaeda.

The Punjabi Taliban includes members and factions of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI). Some top leaders and operatives of the Punjabi Taliban are: Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of HUJI; Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander of HUJI; Rashid Rauf, a senior leader in JeM; Matiur Rehman, a top leader in LeJ; and Qari Zafar, the slain former military leader of LeJ. Many of these leaders and operatives are also senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Kashmiri is the chief of al Qaeda’s military wing, the Lashkar al Zil; Rauf is a top operational leader in al Qaeda’s external operations network; and Matiur Rehman is a top operational leader who is said to manage al Qaeda’s ‘Rolodex’ of fighters who have passed through training camps and safe houses.

The Punjabi Taliban have pooled their resources and contacts to execute brazen, deadly attacks inside Pakistan against military, intelligence, police, government, and civilian targets in Pakistan’s major cities. One attack even took place against Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The Punjabi Taliban, like the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, is seen as being closely allied to al Qaeda. Both Taliban groups have embraced al Qaeda’s tactics, including suicide attacks and armed terror assaults.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Hi Bill,
    I donot subscribe to your view that Osama ordered the hit on Benazir Bhutto or Baitullah Mehsud carried it out.It was carried out by a sniper with gyro stabilized rifle which could be procured only by a state.Even the UN report about on her assassination could NOT hide the fact about State involvement.
    Lal Masjid was functioning for decades. Infact the clerics who folllowed Sqn Ldr Khwaja’s ( a CIA operative) advice and attacked Chinese which is what forced the hand of Army to clean things up. Khwaja also advised the clerics NOT to surrender while he engineered escape one of them in Bur-qua.

  • kp says:

    @CJ: “It was carried out by a sniper with gyro stabilized rifle which could be procured only by a state”

    Is this part of a Pakistani conspiracy theory? It must be an outsider not the TTP+AQ?

    Benazir Bhutto was not killed by gunshots or shrapnel. She had a head wound but nothing was found inside the wound see the CNN posted PDF (que the various “Magical Bullet’ conspiracy theories). The 16 year old gunman (unless the is a hidden secret gunman with disappearing bullets) was caught on film shooting three rounds from a pistol and video before he blew himself up.

    Pakistan totally messed up the investigation and even did the usual number of comments that weren’t without any evidence. My favorite quote (at the time) is from interior minister, Rehman Malik:”We think this was a big international conspiracy”.

    The UN report agreed with idea too (and disagreed with the bullet theory too).

    You can find the report here. It makes an interesting read. This reads like an Agatha Christie script.

    See paragraphs 106-110 for the assassination. 153-155 determines that she was not shot. 168 for the identity of the gunman/bomber from South Waziristan and the intercept that link him to BM. 169-172 for the other folks linked to the bomber. 174 for the BM intercept. 188-196 for the Scotland Yard investigation. Section III (Whodunnit) from 199 onwards is worth reading too like 205 where Mustafa Abu al Yazid claims AQ funded LeJ to kill Butto. 211 for the CIA viewpoint. And 213-223 for potential government-related threats. Then 259 for the main findings.

    Ms Bhutto was murdered on 27 December 2007 when a 15 and a half year-old suicide bomber detonated his explosives near her vehicle as she was leaving the PPP event at Liaquat Bagh. No one believes that this boy acted alone.

    So is this incompetence or conspiracy? One can’t tell though stupidity usually wins over conspiracy. I have no idea but the remaing evidence does rules out some conspiracy theories (like CJ’s one) but the Pakistani governmental organizations (lots of them) comes across as a bunch of barely competent weasels.

    Even before that attack that killed her there were other suicide explosive attacks trying to kill her. Probably gyro-stabilized robots from the US government?


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