A senior al Qaeda operative and several “Punjabi” terrorists are reported to have been killed in yesterday’s Predator airstrike in an area of South Waziristan that remains under the control of the Taliban.
Abu Zaid al Iraqi, an al Qaeda operative who is also known as Ali Khan, is said to have been killed along with several “foreigners” in the Feb. 20 strike in the town of Kaza Panga in the Azam Warzak area of South Waziristan. Reports indicate that between five and seven “militants,” a term used to describe Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and operatives, were killed in yesterday’s strike.
Abu Zaid is said to be al Qaeda’s top financier in Pakistan, The Associated Press reported, based on information from Pakistani intelligence officials. Previously, al Qaeda’s top financial official in the Afghan-Pakistan region was Mustafa Abu Yazid, the Egyptian commander who also led al Qaeda in the Khorasan. Yazid was killed in a US Predator airstrike in North Waziristan on May 21, 2010.
According to The Associated Press, Abu Zaid shifted operations from Afghanistan to South Waziristan sometime in 2008.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they were aware of the reports of Abu Zaid’s death, but would neither confirm nor deny the reports. One official cautioned against accepting the report without some form of confirmation from al Qaeda.
“We’ve been burnt by numerous bad reports of supposedly dead al Qaeda and Taliban HVTs [high value targets] from Pakistani officials,” an intelligence official said.
Another report, from the BBC, said that several “Punjabis” were killed in the Feb. 20 strike in South Waziristan. The names or number of the so-called Punjabis was not disclosed, however.
The term Punjabi is often used to describe one of the several Pakistani terror groups based in Punjab province. These groups include the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Harkar-ul-Ansar. Also, these is a group known as the Punjabi Taliban, which is made up from members of the various Punjabi terror groups. And finally, there is a group that calls itself al Qaeda in Punjab.
The strike against al Qaeda and Punjabi terrorists in the Azam Warzak area of South Waziristan highlights the failure of the Pakistani military and government’s policy of selectively battling Taliban groups in the tribal areas. Although the military went on the offensive against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan, it ignored the Wazir Taliban, under the control of Mullah Nazir.
Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not overtly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state, while the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan openly attacks the state.
Nazir openly supports Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, however, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. Significantly, more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of a peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
The US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. One of the most senior al Qaeda leaders killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, who is better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a July 28, 2008 Predator strike.
Two other top al Qaeda leaders killed in Nazir’s care are Osama al Kini (Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam), al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan; and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, one of al Kini’s senior aides. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In another strike in Nazir’s territory, US Predators also killed Abu Hazwa Jawfi, who is said to have led Jundallah, a Pakistani terror group that is based in Karachi and maintains with close ties with al Qaeda.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.