Omar Khalid [center], from a propaganda video. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
The US military killed Omar Khalid al Khurasani, the leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar who was closely tied to the emir of al Qaeda, ending a decade-long manhunt. Khurasani was killed in a series of airstrikes in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktia that took place earlier this week. A Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman confirmed Khurasani’s death.
“Chief of our Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Umar Khalid Khurasani, who sustained serious injuries in a recent US drone strike in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, succumbed to his injuries Wednesday evening,” spokesman Asad Mansoor told AFP in a phone call. Nine other JuA members were also killed in the strike that killed Khurasani.
The US military has not confirmed reports of Khurasani’s death.
Khurasani was an influential leader within JuA and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. He was a founder of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and led its forces in the tribal agency of Mohmand.
Khurasani was closely aligned with al Qaeda and its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. He 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.
Based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is a dangerous faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan that also has a presence in Punjab province. The group has claimed credit for multiple attacks inside Pakistan. In one of its most callous and deadly attacks, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar suicide bomber detonated at the entrance of a park in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Easter Day in 2016. At least 72 people, mostly women and children, were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the blast. The group’s spokesman explicitly stated that “the target was Christians.”
The terrorist group has also targeted the US consulate in Peshawar and polio vaccination teams in Karachi. In Aug. 2016, the US State Department added JuA to the list of global terrorists organizations.
JuA has promoted its activities on social media. In Feb. 2017, it flaunted its training camps and prominently featured Khurasani as well as its suicide assault team.
JuA split from the TTP in Aug. 2014 due to a leadership dispute, but the two groups nominally reunited in March 2015. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has operated with a large degree of autonomy and issues its own statements on attacks and other matters.
The US launched at least three strikes against jihadists in Paktia and one more in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Kurram over the past several days. At least 30 jihadists from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are believed to have been killed in the attacks.