Quetta airbase attacks carried out by Pakistani Taliban, IMU

A spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s branch in the tribal agency of Mohmand has claimed that the group executed the recent suicide assaults on two Pakistani airbases in Quetta in conjunction with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The statement was issued by Ihsanullah Ihsan, spokesman for Omar Khalid Khorasani, the leader of the Taliban in Mohmand, and published on the Twitter feed of Omar Khorasani, the leader’s “Personal Assistant.” The full statement is republished at the end of this article.

“[A] martyrdom operation took place between the night of 14th August and 15th August, by 16 Martyrdom Operators of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Jamaat-ul-Ahrar), Mehsud Division and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, attacked 2 airbases in Quetta,” read the statement, which was released in English. “This attack started from 11:00 at night and carried on till early next morning. In the last news we received it was reported that 1 ammunition depot was destroyed, 2 jets were destroyed and around 35 security officials were killed.”

The Taliban also said the group would “avenge the atrocities being carried out in Waziristan and upon the rest of the Pakistan people,” referring to the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan that is targeting select jihadist groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Pakistani officials said that the coordinated suicide assaults on Pakistani Air Force Base Samungli, which hosts two squadrons of F-7 interceptor aircraft, and Khalid Army Aviation Base, were carried out by 14 jihadists, 11 of whom were killed and three were captured. The Pakistani military reported no casualties and said the suicide assault teams did not penetrate the perimeter of the base.

The attack on the Quetta airbases was initially claimed by a jihadist group known as the Fedayeen-i-Islam. [See LWJ report, Fedayeen-i-Islam claims suicide assaults on Pakistani airbases.]

Ihsan’s statement does not contradict the Fedayeen-i-Islam’s claim of responsibility for the attack, however. The Fedayeen-i-Islam is a mashup of jihadist groups that also includes elements from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

The IMU has conducted joint operations with the Taliban on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the past. The most recent joint attack in Pakistan took place on June 9, when the IMU and the Taliban launched a suicide attack on a terminal at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi that killed at least 18 Pakistanis, including 11 security personnel, and 10 jihadists.

In one of the more prominent attacks, IMU/al Qaeda leader Bekkay Harrach, who was also known as Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, was killed while leading an assault on Bagram Airbase in May 2010. Harrach led a team of 20 fighters assembled from the ranks of al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to his martyrdom statement. Before his death, Harrach produced propaganda for al Qaeda in which he threatened to attack Germany.

The IMU has also claimed it executed the May 29, 2013 suicide assault on the governor’s compound in Panjshir in concert with the Afghan Taliban.

Mohmand Taliban under command of able leader

Omar Khalid al Khorasani is a top leader in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and is considered one of its most effective and powerful commanders in the tribal areas. He maintains close ties to al Qaeda and is believed to have given sanctuary to Ayman al Zawahiri in the past.

Khalid is also allied with Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leader who operates in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur as well as in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. For the past six years, Rahman has eluded US efforts to kill him. Rahman has established and runs suicide training camps used to indoctrinate and train female bombers. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda, Taliban create female suicide cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan]. In August 2011, Khalid claimed credit for a female suicide attack in Peshawar.

Khalid has been active in the Taliban’s propaganda machine since the death of Osama bin Laden, and has been vocal in his support of al Qaeda. In mid-May 2011, Khalid vowed revenge on Pakistani and US forces for the death of Osama bin Laden, just two weeks after the Abbottabad raid that resulted in his death.

“We will take revenge of Osama’s killing from the Pakistani government, its security forces, the Pakistani ISI, the CIA and the Americans, they are now on our hit list,” Khalid said. “Osama bin Laden has given us the ideology of Islam and Jihad, by his death we are not scattered but it has given us more strength to continue his mission.”

In early June 2011, Khalid said the Taliban have been behind the spate of attacks in Pakistan, and he again threatened the US.

“Our war against America is continuing inside and outside of Pakistan. When we launch attacks, it will prove that we can hit American targets outside Pakistan,” Khalid said.

In the same interview, Khalid said that Ayman al Zawahiri is al Qaeda’s “chief and supreme leader.” He stated this more than one week before Zawahiri was officially declared emir of al Qaeda.

In March 2012, Khalid released a propaganda tape in which he said the Taliban seek to overthrow the Pakistani government, impose sharia, or Islamic law, seize the country’s nuclear weapons, and wage jihad until “the Caliphate is established across the world.” [See LWJ report, Taliban commander wants Pakistan’s nukes, global Islamic caliphate.]

Khalid initially gained prominence during the summer of 2007, when he took over a famous shrine in Mohmand and renamed it the Red Mosque in honor of the radical mosque in Islamabad whose followers had attempted to impose sharia in the capital.

The Mohmand Taliban took control of the tribal agency after the Pakistani government negotiated a peace agreement with the extremists at the end of May 2008. The deal required the Taliban to renounce attacks on the Pakistani government and security forces. The Taliban said they would maintain a ban on the activities of nongovernmental organizations in the region but agreed not to attack women in the workplace as long as they wore veils. Both sides exchanged prisoners.

The Taliban promptly established a parallel government in Mohmand. Sharia courts were formed, and orders were given for women to wear the veil in public. “Criminals” were rounded up and judged in sharia courts. Women were ordered to have a male escort at all times and were prevented from working on farms. The Taliban also kidnapped members of a polio vaccination team.

In July 2008, Khalid became the dominant Taliban commander in Mohmand after defeating the Shah Sahib group, a rival pro-Taliban terror group with ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Pakistani military claimed it killed Khalid in January of 2009, but the Taliban denied the report, and he has since surfaced.

The Pakistani government placed a $123,000 bounty on Khalid’s head in 2009. But Pakistan has failed not only to arrest or kill Khalid, it has yet to capture or kill any of the terrorist leaders on that bounty list. The US succeeded in killing Baitullah Mehsud, who topped the list, in a drone strike in South Waziristan in August 2009, and Hakeemullah Mehsud, Baitullah’s successor, in another strike in November 2013.

Omar Khorasani’s tweet and Ihsanullah Ihsan’s full statement:

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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