A jihadist commander known to have fought in Kashmir was one of several “militants” killed a US drone strike in the Shawal Valley in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan last weekend. His funeral was attended by the head of the Hizbul Mujahideen and by a prominent Pakistani politician.
The commander, who was known as Engineer Ahsan Aziz, died in the Aug. 18 strike in the village of Shuwedar in the Shawal Valley that killed six people, according to a report in Geo News. The jihadist’s father, Abdul Aziz, who is also “a former militant commander,” told the Pakistani news service that his son and his son’s wife were killed in the airstrike.
Engineer Ahsan has been based in the Waziristan tribal areas for a decade and fought in Afghanistan, according to his father.
“Aziz said his son had moved with his wife to Waziristan in 2002 to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan,” The Daily Excelsior reported.
Engineer Ahsan “was part of the deep bench of Pakistani jihadists who have stepped in to fill mid and senior level leadership positions in al Qaeda” as the terror group’s legacy leaders have been killed in drone strikes, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
“There are many more like him [Ahsan], serving as the backbone of al Qaeda, in the tribal areas and throughout Pakistan,” the intelligence official said.
A senior Pakistani politician and the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, an al Qaeda-linked terror group, both attended Engineer Ahsan’s funeral service, which was held in Kashmir, according to The Daily Excelsior.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former emir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party that supports the Taliban, led the prayer service.
Syed Salahuddin, the emir of Hizbul Mujahideen, was also in attendance, as were several “leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and Jamaat-e-Islami.”
Hizbul Mujahideen is a jihadist group with close ties to other Pakistani terror groups that focuses on fighting in Jammu and Kashmir, but also supports al Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It receives support from Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). In May 2011, Salahuddin admitted that the Pakistani military allows him to run “hundreds of training camps in the state where we recruit and train the mujahideen.”
Salahuddin is also the chairman of the United Jihad Council, which is supported by the Pakistani military and the ISI, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. The Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, two groups that are on the US and United Nations lists of terror organizations, are part of the United Jihad Council. Salahuddin has close ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charitable front, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
In July, Salahuddin spoke at a fundraising and recruiting drive for jihad in Afghanistan and India, and said Pakistan is the victim of a US and Israeli conspiracy. At the conference, which was held in Rawalpindi, he stated that his fighters were waging jihad against the US.
“Pakistan is the target of the US-Israeli nexus. Our fighters are defending Pakistan at a time when its geographical boundaries, its security and Islamic identity are at risk,” Salahuddin said. “We are fighting in Kashmir. It doesn’t matter to us if we are labelled terrorists. We are proud to be called terrorists for fighting the US and its allies in Afghanistan.”
The Pakistani government refuses to act against Salahuddin and other terrorist leaders, despite their direct involvement in terrorist activities.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.