The Associated Press reported today that scores of Frenchmen are training in the Miramshah and Datta Khel areas of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan:
Approximately 85 Frenchmen have been training with the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal area for the past three years, according to the intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Most of the men have dual nationality with France and North African countries.
The Frenchmen operate under the name Jihad-e-Islami and are being trained to use explosives and other weapons at camps near the town of Miran Shah and in the Datta Khel area, the officials said. They are led by a French commander who goes by the name Abu Tarek. Five of the men returned to France in January 2011 to find new recruits, according to the officials. It’s unclear whether Merah was among that group.
This should come as no surprise. Datta Khel, an al Qaeda hub, and Miramshah, a Haqqani Network stronghold, have long been known to host training camps for foreign terrorists (Mir Ali is another area of North Waziristan where foreign fighters train). These three areas are the focus of current US Predator and Reaper drone strikes in North Waziristan, and numerous al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed there.
While the name Jihad-e-Islami has not surfaced in the news before today, this is likely just a subgroup of al Qaeda assigned to strike in Europe using European operatives. A plot in Europe by another such group, the Islamic Army of Great Britain, was disrupted when its leader, Abdul Jabbar, was killed in a US drone strike in Datta Khel in September 2010, and two other Brits, Ibrahim Adam and Mohammed Azmir, were killed in another strike over the summer of 2010.
The Islamic Army of Great Britain was formed by al Qaeda leaders Yunis al Mauritania and Ilyas Kashmiri, two top leaders who served on the external military operations council. Osama bin Laden directed Yunis (who is in Pakistani custody) and Kashmiri (who is thought to have been killed in a drone strike last summer) to have the Islamic Army of Great Britain and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan conduct Mumbai-like attacks in Germany, Britain, and France. The plot was foiled when Ahmed Siddiqui, an al Qaeda operative, was captured in Afghanistan. Siddiqui is currently on trial in Germany for his role in plotting the European attacks.
Also, Germans working with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJU) were also involved in the Europe plot that was broken up in 2010. The IJU is known to train in camps in Mir Ali and Datta Khel. One of its senior trainers, who was identified as Qureshi, was among several operatives who were killed in a drone strike in Datta Khel in September 2010.
The camps in North Waziristan (and elsewhere in Pakistan) remain open to this day, and despite claims from US officials over the years that Pakistan is committed to closing them down, it is not going to happen. The Pakistanis have refused to conduct operations in North Waziristan, despite being pressured by the US for years. The US has relied almost solely on drone strikes to attrit the terror groups, but the frequency of the strikes has decreased over the last year, and they have taken place only in the small target boxes of North and South Waziristan. The reality is that North and South Waziristan represent only a small but visible part of the jihadist problem that has strong roots throughout Pakistan.
All of this should give pause to the senior US government officials who continue to claim that al Qaeda is on its deathbed.
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