Leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar emerges after reports of his death

Omar Khalid Khurasani, the emir of the Pakistani Taliban faction known as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), issued a statement today just days after the group’s spokesman told Agence France-Presse he was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan. The release of the statement under Khurasani’s name on the group’s official Telegram account was an all but explicit denial of his death.

On Oct. 19, AFP reported that JuA spokesman Asad Mansour said that Khurasani “sustained serious injuries in a recent US drone strike in Afghanistan’s Paktia province” and “succumbed to his injuries Wednesday evening.”

The US military did not confirm Khurasani’s death. Khurasani, who is closely linked to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, has been hunted by the US for more than a decade.

It is also important to note that while today’s statement attributed to Khurasani did not include any visual or audio proof of his health, the JuA spokesman who operates the group’s Telegram account did not release an official statement announcing Khurasani’s death. It remains unclear whether AFP spoke to an imposter, or if the spokesman lied to the world’s third largest news agency.

Khurasani’s statement, which was dated today, confirmed the death of Khalifa Umar Mansour, JuA’s military leader who was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan back in July 2016.

Khurasani described Mansour as one of the “great warriors and knights” and “the Chief of Military Commission of Jamaat al Ahrar and the Ameer of Durae Adamkhail [Darra Adam Khel]/Peshawar for Jamaat al Ahrar.”

“This tragic loss is insurmountable to cover. This loss is a source of grief for muslims in general and for mujahedeen in particular. The honorable Shaheed was a core in the ongoing jihad,” Khurasani continued. He also noted that “our leaders would be the first to shed their lives for the supreme cause of Shariah,” or Islamic law.

Mansour was the commander of the Tariq Gidar Group, which was responsible for several major attacks on Pakistani schools over the past several years. His tactics were so brutal that even the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is no stranger to killing civilians in massed assaults, denounced him. Mansour’s Tariq Gidar Group was listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organization on May 23, 2016. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US kills Pakistani Taliban commander behind attacks on schools.]

Khurasani’s Taliban faction has a large degree of autonomy within the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. JuA is based in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal agency and also operates across the border in Afghanistan. e previously 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.

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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