US State Department lists Jamaat-ul-Ahrar as terrorist group

Image from a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar propaganda video.

Image from a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar propaganda video.

The US State Department added Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a dangerous faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, to its list of global terrorists organizations earlier today. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has been behind numerous deadly attacks inside Pakistan and is closely allied with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda.

State described Jamaat-ul-Ahrar as “a splinter group of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan,” or Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, however the characterization is not accurate. While Jamaat-ul-Ahrar broke away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan due a leadership dispute in August 2014, the two Taliban groups reunited in March 2015 [See LWJ report, Pakistani jihadist groups, Lashkar-i-Islam merge into the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.]

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar “has staged multiple attacks in the region targeting civilians, religious minorities, military personnel, and law enforcement, and was responsible for the killing of two Pakistani employees of the US Consulate in Peshawar in early March 2016,” State noted in its designation.

In one of its most callous and deadly attacks, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar suicide bomber detonated at the entrance of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore in March 2016. At least 72 people, mostly women and children, were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the blast.

Ihsanullah Ihsan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s official spokesman, proudly took credit for the Easter Day bombing.

“The target was Christians,” Ihsan said in a statement sent to The Long War Journal. He also said that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar wanted to “send a message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.” The group has been operating in Punjab province for nearly two years. [See LWJ report, ‘The target was Christians,’ Pakistani Taliban says of Lahore Easter attack.]

The Pakistani Taliban faction has also claimed credit for numerous attacks in the county, including an attack on a polio vaccination team in Karachi in April 2016 (seven policemen killed), the assassinations of Punjab’s home minister in August 2015 and the lawyer for Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

A dangerous jihadist group with global ambitions

The leadership of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is known to have ties to multiple jihadist groups operating in the region. Omar Khalid al Khurasani, a top leader of the group, is closely linked to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir, and has called for the imposition of sharia law and the establishment of a global caliphate. Khurasani has also said that a primary goal of the Pakistani Taliban is to obtain nuclear weapons. [See LWJ reports, Taliban commander wants Pakistan’s nukes, global Islamic caliphate, and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar celebrates 9/11 attack.]

After the US killed previous Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan May 2016, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar mourned his death and urged Muslims to intensify their efforts to wage jihad.

“With regret the Muslim world has lost a great mentor,” spokesman Ihsan said after Mansour’s death.

Jamaat-ul Ahrar also celebrated the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US and said it will continue to wage jihad until a global caliphate is established. This is a goal shared by al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

“In 2001, Afghanistan was the only Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] in the world but now Jihad has spread to a vast swathe of land including Pakistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Algeria, Mali and Nigeria. No doubt, 9/11 attacks have awakened the Muslim Ummah [community] and set the Kuffar [unbelievers] on to the free fall into destruction,” the group said.

“Today on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, how true the words of Shaikh Osama Bin Laden (may Allah SWT accept his martyrdom) feel: ‘I swear that America won’t enjoy security before we live it for real in Palestine’,” the statement continued.

“Today we pay tribute to our Mujahideen brothers who sacrificed their lives so that we could hold our heads high. We in Tehrik e Taliban Jamaat ul Ahrar pledge that we shall continue the mission of our great martyrs until the Khilafah [the caliphate] is established in every nook and corner of the world,” it concluded.

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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