Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan

Two of the 17 documents released by the US government from the large cache seized during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound indicate that al Qaeda has a much larger footprint in Pakistan than US officials have claimed.

One of the documents is a Dec. 3, 2010 letter to Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan; the letter was written jointly by Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who at the time served as bin Laden’s chief of staff, and Abu Yahya al Libi, a top religious leader who is now Ayman al Zawahiri’s deputy. In the letter, the two al Qaeda leaders critique Hakeemullah’s leadership style and comment further on a “draft” document that Hakeemullah had previously submitted to al Qaeda. In addition, the two al Qaeda leaders admonish Hakeemullah for attempting to give orders to an al Qaeda commander operating in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden docs: Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader.]

The al Qaeda commander was identified as Badr Mansoor, who was subsequently killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February of this year. Atiyah and Abu Yahya tell Hakeemulah to stop issuing orders to Mansoor and to quit attempting to recruit his men.

“We make it clear to you that the brother Badr (Mansoor) is one of the soldiers of the Qaedat al-Jihad Organization who swore allegiance to Sheikh Osama (bin Laden), is with us, under our command, the Emir of a company of ours,” they wrote. “Badr Mansoor and other members of our group are not to be approached to join another organization or to deploy to other locations. Good manners and group work mandate that such a request be presented to his Tanzim (al Qaeda) Emir and superiors,” Atiyah and Abu Yahya said.

The statement is significant as it identified Badr Mansoor as a leader of but one “company” of al Qaeda forces operating in Pakistan.

At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, with which he was closely linked.

Mansoor was known to have a large cadre of fighters at his disposal. According to Central Asia Online, Mansoor’s company had “more than 2,200 members with 350 hardcore fighters and more than 150 suicide bombers.” Mansoor’s group is believed to have participated in terror attacks in Pakistan’s major cities, including Lahore, Karachi, and Quetta, indicating that its network is not confined to Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The US government has consistently estimated the number of al Qaeda leaders and operatives in Pakistan at between 300 and 400. This estimate has remained static since 2010, and does not appear to account for al Qaeda’s Pakistani companies.

Other al Qaeda units in Pakistan

Al Qaeda is also known to have several other units in Pakistan besides the Badr Mansoor Group. Ilyas Kashmiri’s Brigade 313 is considered one of the most dangerous and effective al Qaeda formations in Pakistan. While the size of Brigade 313 is not known, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that it is at least as large as the Badr Mansoor group. Brigade 313’s members are recruited from the 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. Kashmiri was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in June 2011. Before his death, Kashmiri served as al Qaeda’s overall military commander; Mansoor was one of his deputies.

Another known al Qaeda “company” commander operating in Pakistan is Asmatullah Muawiya, a former Jaish-e-Mohammad commander. While the size of Asmatullah’s force is not publicly known, a US intelligence official estimated that the group has “several hundred jihadis.”

The Qari Zafar Group is another al Qaeda “company” that operates in Pakistan. Named after Qari Mohammad Zafar, a Laskhar-e-Jhangvi leader who also led the Fedayeen-e-Islam and was killed in a US drone strike North Waziristan in February 2010, the group has conducted attacks in Karachi, Islamabad, and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Qari Zafar Group is thought to have thousands of fighters and supporters in Pakistan.

The alliance between al Qaeda and the numerous Pakistani terror groups allows al Qaeda to maintain what US intelligence officials call a “deep bench” of talent that is available to replace leaders and fighters killed in drone strikes and fighting.

“Al Qaeda is taking advantage of decades of networking in Pakistan, not just in the tribal areas, but in Pakistan proper, to develop a deep bench of leaders and foot soldiers who can be brought into the organization when there are vacancies,” a US official told The Long War Journal after Badr Mansoor was killed in February.

That point was demonstrated by the speed with which al Qaeda backfilled Badr Mansoor’s position. According to the Pakistani press, al Qaeda swiftly named Farman Shinwari as Mansoor’s successor. Like Mansoor, Shinwari has close ties to Pakistani terror groups, and specifically the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen.

“All of Farman Shinwari’s brothers are affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP or Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan) and other militant groups,” The News reported. “His elder brother Hazrat Nabi Shinwari, alias Tamanchy Mulla, was a theology teacher in a government-run school in Landikotal. He was leading the TTP in Khyber Agency in 2005 and also used to send militants to Kashmir and Afghanistan. He has remained the head of Harkatul Mujahideen and is nowadays said to be leading his group of TTP men in Waziristan.”

The Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which operates openly in Pakistan with the support of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, has long supported al Qaeda. Fazl-ur-Rahman Khalil, the leader of HUM, is living in the open in a suburb of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden consulted Khalil before issuing his infamous fatwa against the US. Khalil’s group has been involved in numerous acts of terror in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian airplane, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and a series of terror attacks in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to The New York Times, one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers, who was killed during the Abbottabad raid, had phone numbers linking him to the HUM.

Additionally, leaked threat assessments authored by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) contain further revelations about the relationship between Harakat-ul-Mujahideen and al Qaeda [see LWJ report, Bin Laden’s courier tied to Pakistani-backed terror group]. Daniel Pearl was murdered in the home of Saud Memon, who was identified by several members of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami (HUMA), an offshoot with close ties to its parent organization, as their “chief financial backer.” According to the JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he referred to Memon as “al Qaeda’s finance chief in Pakistan.”

The ties between AQ and HUM are also corroborated by the JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Mohammed Ilyas, a known Pakistani jihadist who served as a recruiter and trainer at a Harakat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami camp in Mansehra, Pakistan. A footnote in the report states that HUMA is tied to al Qaeda.

“Kamran Atif, a terrorist who was recently arrested by the Pakistani Crime Investigation Department (CID) Police revealed that HUMA [Harakat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami] has links with al Qaeda and that HUMA and AQ are ‘in complete contact with each other,'” the footnote said.

Both Ilyas and Atif have been involved multiple terrorist attacks in Pakistan that have also been linked to al Qaeda.

Bin Laden orders movement of hundreds of operatives to Afghanistan

The other document from the 17 publicly released bin Laden files that suggests a substantial al Qaeda presence in Pakistan is a letter from bin Laden dated Oct. 21, 2010 and addressed to Atiyah. In the letter, the al Qaeda emir advises that “hundreds of the brothers” be relocated from North and South Waziristan to Kunar province in Afghanistan in order to avoid drone strikes.

“Note: there is no comparison between the fortification of Kunar and Zabul and Ghazni [provinces],” bin Laden says. “Kunar is more fortified due to its rougher terrain and the many mountains, rivers, and trees and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy.”

Bin Laden also said, however, that not all of the fighters should leave Waziristan, and that some should remain.

“Regarding the brothers in Waziristan in general, whoever can keep a low profile and take the necessary precautions, should stay in the area and those who cannot do so, their first option is to go to Nuristan in Kunar [sic], Ghazni or Zabul. I am leaning toward getting most of the brothers out of the area,” bin Laden said.

Although it is unclear to what extent bin Laden’s instructions were followed, ISAF has noted that al Qaeda operatives have been killed and captured in Kunar, Ghazni, and Zabul provinces in 2011.

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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  • It is only tinted glasses of Americans who have to deny this link because of CIA/ISI links.That General Musharaff and GHQ was fooling the americans though acting as a American supporter is now known after the killing of Osama

  • Charles says:

    It would be nice if someone ran a flag up the chain for command to the effect of getting a pre approval of a very big bomb run next time there is a big concentration of Al Qaeda and Taliban on the ground –as there was a couple weeks back.

  • Bill, as you often point out, the line is indeed thin in distinguishing Al Qaeda cadre from other Islamic extremists operating in Pakistan. Both in terms of ideology and allegiance, there is little to differentiate between these folks.
    Most scholars have not understood the depth of support radical ideologies enjoy in Pakistan. According to a 2010 Pew Global Attitudes poll, 82 percent of those surveyed in Pakistan were in favor of harsh sharia-driven penalties, such as stoning adulterers.
    I have argued in a recent paper of mine that strong support for sharia is a necessary requirement for the large-scale formation of jihadist groups. It is, of course, by no means sufficient, if the ruling regimes such as the one led by Hosni Mubarak decided otherwise (the same Pew Poll showed 82 percent support in Egypt as well).
    In Pakistan, popularity of sharia along with its military’s embrace of jihad has likely led to the formation of jihadist groups, Al Qaeda or otherwise.
    It is disturbing that our government still continues to focus undue attention on the Al Qaeda phenomenon, which is decidedly a symptom of the underlying and poorly-understood cause.

  • Nic says:

    ” Two of the 17 documents released by the US government from the large cache seized during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound indicate that al Qaeda has a much larger footprint in Pakistan than US officials have claimed. ”
    @Bill: Not to detract from your excellent article but shouldn’t this entire situation be given the Captain Renault Award? The basis for bestowing this accolade is that any evil that originates in Pakistan should be considered an expectation.

  • David Forscey says:

    So is Ilyas Kashmiri dead or not? I thought there was a post on this site questioning the claim, but this article confirms he was killed…

  • mike merlo says:

    Try as they might I don’t see AQ Pakistan making a wholesale effort to focus all their resources including manpower on Afghanistan. In fact if someone took the time to actually do a spread sheet as to just how much AQ Pakistan has dedicated to the Afghan insurgency I would estimate 20% to 30% tops of what AQ Pakistan has available to bring to bear.
    Those elements indigenous to Pakistan that have pledged allegiance to AQ are not about sacrificing or committing their hard won territorial home turf gains to some entity that after all is said and done will offer little in return for services rendered. All those AQ Pakistani affiliates have not forgotten what the Haqqani’s ended up with after pledging cooperation the Taliban.
    To fully appreciate what AQ goals & objectives are concerning the AfPak Theater one should review what Zawahiri has had to say on the subject. These views are even more relevant today now that Zawahiri has assumed overall command of AQ.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    So each of these “companies” added together totals to at least about 6500 – 7000 AQ members not to mention affiliates and other auxiliaries that can be called upon when needed. That is well over 2000% of what the minimum number the US government states there is there.

  • Villiger says:

    Don’t be afraid to re-christen the combine. Whatever your view of the dynamics of the combine, Paqistan is today’s reality. Understand that, and then go from there and deal with it.
    Muthuswamy talks sense–not just because he has the logical mind of a (nuclear) scientist, not just because he’s done rigorous research, but also i’m guessing its because he has a finer sense of the culture of South Asia and its history, that his understanding resonates at a deep level.
    The whole strategy towards AQAM and Paqistan, particularly its jihadist Army needs to revisited. The White House team is just muddling through things. The failure of Obama’s 2009 strategy, particularly as it relates to Paqistan is amply self-evident. They are behaving like they have all the time in the world while the world is on fire.
    If reconciliation is the strategy, they should go back to kindergarten.

  • JT says:

    Zawahiri and Omar are not on the FBI’s ten most wanted terrorist list. Any ideas why not?

  • Paul D says:

    In their minds they are ALL fighting for the same side Islam versus infidels!

  • blert says:

    JT …
    As a matter of American law, the FBI never places alien nationals on the ten most wanted list until they enter the American nation.
    The FBI has absolutely no jurisdiction outside our borders, is why.
    Instead, such players are on the CIA’s most detested list.
    Glad to clear that up for you.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    JT, Zawahiri is on the list and has a $25 million dollar bounty on his head, Al-Quso is still listed as well even though he was killed quite recently. Omar is not on the list, but i suspect that is for political reasons since its hard to negotiate with someone when you put a bounty on their head. It seems in theory the government would accept a negotiated peace with Omar and other Taliban leaders, though these high ranking leaders would likely never accept the highly restrictive terms. Remember there is a difference between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, though many fighters are affiliated with both groups.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    It is also interesting to note while many of the Islamist groups in the afpak region are labeled by the the state department as foreign terrorist organizations including Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban), Omar’s Afghan Taliban is not listed as a terrorist organization by the state department.

  • mike merlo says:

    re:M Muthuswamy
    would you mind ‘clarifying’ this statement?
    “…which is decidedly a symptom of the underlying and poorly understood cause.”

  • mike merlo says:

    re: blert
    I thought being placed on the 10 most wanted list had nothing to do with one being physically in the US or present at a recognized parcel of US ‘Soverignity’ (Embassy) as long as one was identified of having been part of a crime or conspiracy either taking place or targeting the US or its citizens?

  • sports says:

    This is great stuff that the government releases this information after Badr Mansoor is killed. Good JOB…the Paki’s are rotten to the core.

  • Mike, I had meant to say that the Al Qaeda phenomenon is a symptom of the underlying cause of Muslim radicalism, which, until now, itself is a poorly understood issue.

  • blert says:
    Click the link. Every suspect is assumed to be inside the USA.
    This list IS the ‘Ten Most Wanted’ that has been around since the Thirties.
    Even though the FBI does not have jurisdiction, they’ve created a ‘Ten Most Wanted Terrorists’ on the basis that these players might yet be spotted, somehow.
    The State Department has a high-dollar rewards program for the beasties on this list. The typical reward is $ 5,000,000.
    The ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list has been so effective — the FBI has expanded it to other variations, too.
    Apparently, Omar has not been indicted by a sitting Grand Jury; that’s the reason he’s not on list number two.
    And, there’s protocol. Since he was a Head of State at the time of his crimes I rather suspect that the Department of State is loathe any legal proceedings on our part against him in that capacity.
    Glad to clear that up.

  • mike merlo says:

    re: M Muthuswamy blert
    thank you for responding


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