In tribute to Hakeemullah Mehsud, TTP exposes ties to Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda

In a newly released video, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) honors its former leader Hakeemullah Mehsud and pays tribute to his life in jihad. In doing so, however, the group highlights the often overlooked close relationship between the Afghan Taliban, its Pakistani brothers, and Al Qaeda, and Pakistan’s complicity in propping up terror networks.

In paying tribute to Hakeemullah, TTP’s video discusses the close ties and coordination between it and the Afghan Taliban and its sub-group the Haqqani Network. As well as central Asian jihadist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and “Arabs,” a not so subtle nod to Al Qaeda. 

The video opens with a homage to so-called martyrs of the jihad. The list illustrates the TTP’s view of the jihadist network in the region. That network extends far beyond its own rank and file, whose slain leaders are also heavily represented in the montage. 

Among the non-TTP members who are featured are jihadi giants such as Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, the co-founders of Al Qaeda; Mustafa Abu Yazid, a senior Al Qaeda leader with close ties to the Taliban; Afghan Taliban founder Mullah Omar; Mullah Dadullah, a top Afghan Taliban military commander; Mullah Sangeen Zadran; a senior Haqqani Network military leader; Tahir Yuldashev, the former emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; Anwar al Awlaki, the American cleric for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq; Adul Rashid Ghazi, the former leader of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad; and Nizamuddin Shamzai, the influential Deobandi cleric who led the infamous Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia Islamic University in Karachi that has spanned numerous Pakistani terror groups. 

The video paints Hakeemullah as a storied jihadist fighter having been involved in several key battles and attacks. In one scene, the video compares Hakeemullah to other “heroes of the Islamic nation” such as Al Qaeda leaders Ibn Khattab and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and former Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah. 

Hakeemullah fought alongside famed Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah in Helmand in the early days of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. A narrator in the film explains that Baitullah Mehsud, the founder and first emir of the TTP, had sent Hakeemullah to Helmand to fight alongside Abdullah Mehsud with Mullah Dadullah. 

However, the video notes that Hakeemullah had previously attempted to join the fight in Afghanistan but was personally turned away by Mullah Omar because he was too young. Omar is referred to as Amir al Mu’minin, or the leader of the faithful, a religious title that is often given to the caliph, or leader of the caliphate.

Abdullah Mehsud, a Pakistani jihadist from South Waziristan, was captured fighting alongside the Taliban against U.S. forces in Dec. 2001 and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility before being released in late 2003. He quickly rejoined the fight, and organized 5,000 fighters to again attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The video then makes it clear that following Pakistani military offensives in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2004 at the behest of the U.S., both Hakeemullah and Baitullah began their jihad in Pakistan. 

From here, the video highlights how Hakeemullah became a jihadist commander in his own right. The film states that Hakeemullah opened up the FATA area for foreign jihadists to train and to use as safe havens. The narrator explicitly mentions “Uzbeks” and “Arabs,” while the former emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yuldashev, is shown on screen. 

“… so these areas became a safe hideout for the mujahideen. From Arabs, Uzbeks, and other nationalities,” the TTP narrator notes.

The term “Arabs” is a reference to Al Qaeda, whose members sheltered in North and South Waziristan. The Haqqanis, which operate both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the Mehsuds and other Taliban factions sheltered Al Qaeda and other foreign terror groups that fled U.S. pressure in Afghanistan. 

While the Pakistani Taliban groups battled the Pakistani military, Hakeemullah also had his men participate in the fighting on the other side of the border. The video states that TTP’s men fought alongside the Afghan Taliban in Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Nangarhar, and Helmand. In the mid-2000s, there were numerous reports of bodies of slain Pakistani fighters being brought back from Afghanistan to be buried.

By 2005, the Pakistani military realized the tribal areas were difficult to tame, and cut peace deals with the various Taliban groups. Al Qaeda quickly declared its Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, and embolden Islamists pushed the boundaries beyond the tribal areas. Maulana Abdul Aziz and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rashid began enforcing sharia law at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, and the areas surrounding it in Islamabad. The Pakistani military raided the mosque and killed scores of followers. This caused many of the Taliban groups to band together and form the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Baitullah was its first emir, and Hakeemullah was his spokesman. The TTP launched a deadly insurgency that led to the takeover of the tribal areas and what was then known as the Northwest Frontier Province. Hakeemullah was named emir after Baitullah was killed in a drone strike in 2009.

As emir, Hakeemullah not only sheltered Al Qaeda and supported its global operations, he sought to attack the U.S. directly on its soil. The video spends a considerable amount of time discussing Hakeemullah’s role in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack in Khost, Afghanistan, and in directing the failed 2010 Times Square bombing plot. According to the video, Hakeemullah personally assisted in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack alongside Al Qaeda. 

The TTP leader can be seen alongside Abu Dujana al Khurasani, the perpretator of that suicide bombing, which left seven CIA officers, one Jordanian intelligence officer, and one Afghan intelligence officer dead. 

The Camp Chapman attack highlights the incestuous relationship between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. The attack took place in Khost which is dominated by the Haqqani Network. The TTP and Al Qaeda could not have conducted this attack without the permission and support of the Haqqanis. 

The narrator notes that this joint operation was done in revenge for the killing of Baitullah, who had been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan earlier that year. Al Qaeda’s statement at the time noted this, as well as revenge for Saleh al Somali, Al Qaeda’s former external operations chief, Abdullah Said al Libi, the leader of Al Qaeda’s then military wing, Lashkar al Zil, and Baitullah Mehsud. The U.S. killed the three terrorist leaders during it’s drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Faisal Shahzad, the perpetrator of the failed 2010 Times Square plot, is also shown training in TTP facilities in Pakistan. In one clip, Shahzad is shown with Aamir Ali Chaudhry, who was designated as a terrorist by the United States in 2012 for his role as an explosive expert. The U.S. also noted his role in helping to craft the bomb for the failed 2010 plot. 

In one video clip, Hakeemullah is shown leaving a building with Tahir Yuldashev, the former emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Also seen is another jihadist, who appears to be Abbos Mansoor, an ethnic Kyrgyz and the IMU’s military commander before he was killed in a drone strike in 2011. 

In addition, Hakeemullah is shown in archival footage with two important Taliban leaders, further showing the close levels of coordination between the Taliban groups. In one clip, Hakeemullah and current TTP emir, Noor Wali Mehsud, are shown meeting with Mullah Sangeen Zadran. 

Sangeen, a commander within the Haqqani Network, was also the Taliban shadow governor for Afghanistan’s Paktika province. In addition, he was the commander that held U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl and was a close ally of Al Qaeda. Sangeen has also recruited foreign fighters to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad. 

In the second, and perhaps most important of the meetings, Hakeemullah is shown meeting with Sirajaddin Haqqani, the current leader of the Haqqani Network and overall deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban. The two are displayed talking and then praying together in the video. Siraj’s face is blurred, as it always is in Taliban propaganda.

The Hakeemullah-Siraj relationship is important, as the Pakistani state views the Afghan Taliban and Haqqanis as jihadists they can work with in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Haqqanis are backed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment. Yet, the TTP directly attacks the Pakistani state, with the support of the Haqqanis and other so-called “good Taliban.” The Pakistani state is directly complicit in the TTP’s murder of tens of thousands of Paksitani civilians, soldiers, police, and government officials. 

Additionally, the Pakistani establishment’s support for the Afghan Taliban has made it directly complicit in the TTP’s attack on Camp Chapman and a multitude of TTP attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as well Shazad’s failed Times Square plot on U.S. soil. 

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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