Eight South Waziristan Taliban commanders, pictured in a wanted poster: 1. Hakeemullah Mehsud, 2. Waliur Rehman Mehsud, 3. Qari Hussain Mehsud, 4. Azam Tariq, 5. Maulvi Azmatullah, 6. Mufti Noor Wali, 7. Asmatullah Bhittani, 8. Mohammad Anwar Gandapur.
Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan claim that Qari Hussain Mehsud, the Taliban’s deputy leader and notorious trainer of suicide bombers, including children, was killed in a US Predator airstrike this month. But the reports are conflicting, and US intelligence officials will not confirm his death. Meanwhile, the Taliban have denied that he was killed.
News of the possibility of Qari Hussain Mehsud’s death broke early Friday in the Pakistani and Indian press. Unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials asserted that Qari Hussain was killed in one of the 12 recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
But the dates of the reports of Qari Hussain’s death conflict with each other. Geo News claimed Qari Hussain was killed in a strike on Oct. 2 (there were two strikes on Oct. 2 in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan: one in the village of Dashgah, and the other in the village of Inzarkas). Dawn, which was clear that the report was unconfirmed, said he may have been killed in a strike on Oct. 4, in Mir Ali. The Press Trust of India claimed he died in a strike on Oct. 7 in “Jungle Khel” (the Oct. 7 strike took place in the village of Khaisoori in the Mir Ali area). Meanwhile, The Nation stated Qari Hussain was killed in one of two strikes on Oct. 15, in the village of Machi Khel in the Mir Ali area.
In addition to the contradictions in the reports, the Pakistani Taliban have denied that Qari Hussain was killed.
“Qari Hussain is alive and healthy and will soon contact the media,” a Taliban operative close to Qari Hussain told Dawn. The Taliban operative said that “infidels and their agents” were attempting to sow confusion and demoralize the Taliban rank and file.
US intelligence official familiar with the program told The Long War Journal that they were aware of the multiple reports of his death, but were unable to confirm that he was killed. One official did say that Qari Hussain “was on the target list” but would not confirm if he was the target of a recent strike.
The US is hunting Qari Hussain for his role in training Faisal Shahzad, the operative who came close to detonating a car bomb in Times Square in the heart of New York City on May 1, 2010. Qari Hussain trained Shahzad how to build the bomb. Qari Hussain also appeared on a Taliban propaganda tape claiming credit for the failed attack, and threatened to carry out more attacks [for more on the Pakistani Taliban’s role in the Times Square plot, see LWJ reports, Pakistani Taliban claim credit for failed NYC Times Square car bombing, and US sees Pakistani Taliban involvement in Times Square attack after downplaying links].
The US also wants to kill Qari Hussain for his role in training Abu Dujanah al Khurasani [Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi], the Jordanian who deceived the CIA into believing he was providing intelligence on al Qaeda’s operations in Pakistan. Khurasani killed seven CIA officials and bodyguards, and a Jordanian intelligence officer, in the Dec. 30, 2009 suicide attack against the CIA at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province, Afghanistan. Khurasani lured the officials by promising to have detailed intelligence on the location of Ayman al Zawahiri.
Qari Hussain has been reported dead before
On numerous occasions over the past three years, Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials have announced that Qari Hussain has been killed. Qari Hussain has denied the reports each time, in statements made directly to the media.
The Pakistani military first reported that Qari Hussain was killed during an operation in South Waziristan in January 2008. The report was based on intercepted Taliban communications. The Pakistani military later reiterated that claim during a tour of the Spinkai camp on May 18, 2008.
On May 23, 2008, five days after the military’s second claim of his death, Qari Hussain mocked the military during a press conference held at a government school building in South Waziristan. “I am alive, don’t you see me?” Qari Hussain taunted.
At the beginning of this year, the Pakistani government claimed Qari Hussain was killed in the Jan. 14 US airstrike that targeted his boss, Hakeemullah Hakeemullah, in North Waziristan. But Qari Hussain confirmed he was alive when he contacted a Pakistani television station on Feb. 1 to deny that Hakeemullah had been killed.
Even after Qari Hussain spoke to the media on Feb. 1, Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, twice claimed that Qari Hussain was killed, once on Feb. 3, and again on Feb. 10. Qari Hussain rebutted Malik’s claims when spoke to a Pakistani news service on Feb. 14 to take credit for deadly suicide attacks in the district of Bannu.
Background on Qari Hussain Mehsud
Based out of South Waziristan until the military operations in the Mehsud tribal areas in the fall of 2009, Qari Hussain has since relocated to the Mir Ali region in North Waziristan. He has long been a close ally of al Qaeda.
He has served in the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a radical anti-Shia terror group that serves as muscle for al Qaeda, and in the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islam, under the command of Ilyas Kashmiri. Qari Hussain also served as a senior leader in the Fadayeen-i-Islam, a terror outfit that conducted numerous attacks against the Pakistani government.
Qari Hussain is known as Ustad-i-Fedayeen, or the teacher of suicide bombers. Prior to the Pakistani Army offensive in South Waziristan in October 2009, Qari Hussain ran camps in the tribal agency where children were trained to become suicide bombers. Children as young as seven years old were indoctrinated to wage jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a video taken at one of his camps in Spinkai showed.
The Pakistani military first demolished Qari Hussain’s suicide nursery during an earlier, shorter offensive against the Taliban in Spinkai in January 2008. The military launched the short operation after Taliban forces commanded by Baitullah Mehsud overran two military outposts and conducted attacks against other forts and military convoys in the tribal agency.
The military seized numerous documents and training materials in the demolished camp. In May 2008, a senior Pakistani general described the previous camp as a suicide “factory” for children. Sometime in the spring or summer of 2008, Qari Hussain rebuilt his child training camps in South Waziristan.
The Pakistani government has placed a $600,000 bounty out for information leading to the death or capture of Qari Hussain. He is among the top three most wanted leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, along with Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud.