The US Department of State added Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations today. As with the official designation of HM’s emir, Syed Salahuddin, State highlighted the group’s activities in Kashmir while ignoring its connections to the bevy of Pakistani and regional jihadist groups, including those that fight against US forces in Afghanistan.
State noted that HM, which was founded in 1989, “is one of the largest and oldest militant groups operating in Kashmir” and “has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014, explosives attack in the [Indian] state of Jammu and Kashmir, which injured 17 people.”
The brief designation omitted HM’s support for al Qaeda in the past, as well as its relations with other jihadist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hizbul Mujahideen also receives support from Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), which allows the group to operate openly inside Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Salahuddin, who leads HM, was added to the US list of specially designated global terrorists on June 27, 2017, just as President Donald Trump met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In addition to serving as the emir of HM, Salahuddin is also the chairman of the United Jihad Council, which is supported by the Pakistani military and the ISI. The focus of the United Jihad Council is waging jihad against Indian institutions inside Kashmir, but the council also serves as a bridge to other jihadist groups operating in the region. 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 operates openly and is immune to arrest from Pakistani authorities. He is known to maintain an office in the Baila Noor Shah area of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The Pakistani government refuses to act against Salahuddin and other terrorist leaders, despite their direct involvement in terrorist activities.
In the past, Salahuddin has admitted that the Pakistani military allows him to run “hundreds of training camps in the state where we recruit and train the mujahideen.”
He is also known to raise money for jihadist groups operating in South Asia. In July 2012, 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 month prior, Salahuddin threatened the Pakistani state if it withdrew its support for jihadist groups. At the time, Pakistan was pressuring jihadist groups to pare back activities in the Indian state of Kashmir and Jammu. Salahuddin also attended funeral of Engineer Ahsan Aziz, a jihadist killed in US drone strike in North Waziristan in Aug. 2012. According to Aziz’s father, his son was based in Waziristan for a decade and fought in Afghanistan.
“We are fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir and if it withdraws its support, the war would be fought inside Pakistan,” he said, according to The Times of India.