The US has killed a senior aide to Osama bin Laden who served as a key link to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other jihadist factions in Pakistan.
Mohammed Usman, a Pakistani citizen from Punjab province who was wanted for the murder of a policeman in 1997, was killed in one of the five Predator strikes this week in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, according to the Asia Times. Usman was a key member of Ilyas Kashmiri’s Brigade 313, al Qaeda’s military formation in Pakistan, and also helped to unite al Qaeda with multiple Pakistani terror groups.
Usman, who is also known as Chotu and Punjabi Usman, was a prominent member of Pakistan’s jihadist circles during the 1990s, and went to Afghanistan after the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Al Qaeda operatives described Usman as “irreplaceable” for his ability to bridge the gap between al Qaeda and Pakistani jihadist factions. “Although not an Arab, he steadily climbed up the jihadi ladder, eventually serving on the personal staff of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,” the Asia Times reported. Al Qaeda’s top leadership positions have traditionally been held by Saudis, Egyptians, and Libyans.
Usman served as a key link to Sheikh Issa al Masri, the Egyptian cleric and ideologue who has helped the terror group gain a foothold in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan over the past decade. Sheikh Issa has facilitated the spread of the radical Wahabist strain of Islam in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and is influential among the Haqqani Network. He was instrumental in shaping the view amongst jihadists that Pakistan and Afghanistan constituted a single theater of war, and that the Pakistani state was as much an enemy as the US.
“In Pakistan, [Usman] joined forces with Arab ideologue Sheikh Issa and helped him to expand his ideological network among Pakistani jihadis, as well as to orchestrate the struggle against the security forces,” the Asia Times reported.
Usman helped unite Sheikh Issa with Maulana Abdullah Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, the radical brothers who ran the infamous Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad. Aziz and Ghazi turned the Lal Masjid into a bastion for jihadists in the capital of Pakistan, and attempted to impose sharia. Their followers kidnapped policemen and held them hostage, seized land, and sent squads of burka-clad women to enforce the radical brand of Islamic law in Islamabad.
In July 2007, Pakistani security forces stormed the Lal Masjid; more than 100 people were killed during the siege and assault, including Ghazi. Aziz was arrested but eventually was released along with the other jihadists captured during the raid. The assault on the Lal Masjid served to unite disparate factions of Pakistani jihadist groups with al Qaeda and the multiple Taliban groups operating in Pakistan’s northwest, and sparked a massive suicide campaign throughout Pakistan and an insurrection in much of the northwest.
In the aftermath of the Lal Masjid raid, a letter from Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, was discovered in the Lal Masjid. Zawahiri is said to have encouraged Ghazi and Aziz to fight to the death to serve as martyrs, according to a report in the Times Online.
Usman opened the line of communication between Zawahiri and the Lal Masjid clerics, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Usman also served as bin Laden’s “messenger” to Ilyas Kashmiri, the military commander who leads Brigade 313, which is al Qaeda’s military organization in Pakistan and is made up of Taliban and allied jihadist groups. Members of Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jundallah (the Karachi-based, al Qaeda-linked group), and several other Pakistani terror groups are known to have merged with al Qaeda in Pakistan, and the group operates under the name of Brigade 313. This group is interlinked with Pakistan’s Taliban and also recruits senior members of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
In 2005, Usman passed a message from bin Laden to Kashmiri, who was advised to move his operations to Pakistan’s tribal areas. Kashmiri is known to operate training camps and support facilities in North Waziristan.
Usman became a key member in Kashmiri’s Brigade 313. He “was strategically groomed by the battle-hardened Kashmiri, who trained him in monitoring targets and preparing maps and coordination for strikes by 313 Brigade,” the Asia Times reported. “In short, he became al Qaeda’s spymaster.”
Key al Qaeda leaders killed in recent attacks
Usman is the latest top al Qaeda leader to have been killed in the covert US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The US stepped up attacks at the beginning of September in an effort to disrupt a plot in Europe that was to mirror the November 2008 Mumbai terror assault in India by the Lashkar-e-Taiba that killed more than 170 people. At least three al Qaeda cells were to carry out attacks in major cities in France, Britain, and Germany.
Al Qaeda and allied terror groups based in Pakistan’s tribal leaders have suffered significant losses since the summer of 2009, beginning with the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who allied with al Qaeda. Since August 2009, al Qaeda has lost two leaders of its operations in the Khorasan (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia): Mustafa Abu Yazid, and his successor Sheikh Fateh al Masri. Yazid also served as al Qaeda’s paymaster and top financial official.
In addition to Yazid and Fateh, Abdullah Said al Libi, who was the leader of al Qaeda’s military, and several members of the military council have been killed in Predator strikes. And some the top leaders of several al Qaeda’s affiliates have been killed: Abdul Haq al Turkistani, a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis and the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party; Najmuddin Jalolov; the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group; and Tahir Yuldashev the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. [For the full list of al Qaeda leaders killed in the US Predator campaign, see LWJ Special Report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
Despite these devastating losses, al Qaeda has been able to replenish its leadership by recruiting from the ranks of affiliated terror groups based in Pakistan [see Al Qaeda’s #3 misidentified again for more details.]
Operatives such as Mohammed Usman have served key roles in filling the leadership void in al Qaeda caused by the Predator campaign, and have recruited new allies for the local and global jihad.
Top terrorist leaders killed since August 2009:
Sheikh Fateh al Masri
Al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan (or the Khorasan).
Date reported killed: Sept. 25, 2010.
An Islamic Jihad Group commander who trained Germans and other foreigners in North Waziristan and then sent them back to their home countries.
Date reported killed: Sept. 8, 2010.
Mustafa Abu Yazid
Yazid, also known as Sheikh Saeed al Masri, was al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan and top financial official.
Date killed: May 21, 2010.
Sadam Hussein Al Hussami
A senior operative in al Qaeda’s external operations network who was involved in the suicide attack that killed seven CIA officials in Khost. Hussami was also known as Ghazwan al Yemeni.
Date killed: March 10, 2010.
Qari Mohammad Zafar
A top leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam, wanted by the US for attacking the US Consulate in Karachi in 2006.
Date killed: February 24, 2010.
Abdul Haq al Turkistani
A member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis and the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party.
Date killed: February 14, 2010.
Abdullah Said al Libi
The top commander of the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army.
Date thought killed: December 17, 2009 (exact date is not known)
Zuhaib al Zahib
A commander in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army.
Date killed: December 17, 2009
Saleh al Somali
The leader of al Qaeda’s external network.
Date killed: December 8, 2009
The leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, a breakaway faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Najmuddin was closely allied with al Qaeda.
Date killed: September 14, 2009
Mustafa al Jaziri
A senior military commander for al Qaeda who sat on al Qaeda’s military shura.
Date killed: September 7, 2009
The leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Date killed: August 27, 2009
The overall leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Date killed: August 5, 2009