Senior Pakistani Taliban leader reportedly killed in Afghanistan

Omar Khalid Khurasani (center), from a Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan propaganda video.

Omar Khalid Khurasani, a virulent senior leader of a dangerous faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, was reportedly killed in a roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 6. A spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan confirmed his death, though he has previously also been reportedly killed twice before.

Khurasani, who is believed to have given sanctuary to Ayman al Zawahiri in the past, has called for global jihad, attacks on the U.S. and openly celebrated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

Khurasani and two of his deputies, known as Hafiz Dawlat and Mufti Hassan, were killed in a roadside bombing in the Bermal district in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika. To this point, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Khurasani.

Khurasani’s presence in Bermal should come as no surprise as it is a stronghold of the Haqqani Network, the powerful Afghan Taliban subgroup whose leader Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of two deputy Taliban emirs as well as the country’s interior minister. Sirajuddin was sheltering Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri when he was killed in Kabul on July 30, 2022.

Top foreign terror leaders have sheltered in Bermal in the past. In late July 2015, the U.S. killed Abu Khalil al Sudani, a senior al Qaeda leader who took direction from Ayman al Zawahiri, in a raid on an Al Qaeda training camp in Bermal. Sudani had a hand in al Qaeda’s external operations network, which plots attacks against the U.S. and the West.

The raid on the Bermal camp gave the US information on the existence of two other Al Qaeda training camps in the Shorabak district in Kandahar province. More than 150 Al Qaeda operatives and fighters were killed in the subsequent raids on the Al Qaeda camps in Shorabak in October 2015.

A veteran Pakistani Taliban leader

Khurasani took control of the Mohmand tribal agency in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhkwa after defeating a rival terrorist group and soon became the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s forces there. He led the charge to seize control of the tribal agency and held it for five years before the Pakistani military drove his fighters underground or across the border into Afghanistan.

He was considered one of the Pakistani Taliban’s most effective and powerful commanders in the tribal areas. Khurasani was known to maintain close ties to Al Qaeda, including the aforementioned safe haven he was believed to provide for Zawahiri.

Khurasani was also allied with Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and Al Qaeda leader who operates in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur, as well as in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Rahman eluded U.S. efforts to kill him for over a decade. Rahman has established and operated suicide training camps used to indoctrinate and train female bombers. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda, Taliban create female suicide cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan]. In Aug. 2011, Khurasani claimed credit for a female suicide attack in Peshawar.

Khurasani has been active in the Taliban’s propaganda machine since the death of Osama bin Laden, and has been vocal in his support of Al Qaeda. In mid-May 2011, Khurasani vowed revenge on Pakistani and US forces just two weeks after the US raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad that resulted in his death.

“We will take revenge of Osama’s killing from the Pakistani government, its security forces, the Pakistani ISI, the CIA and the Americans, they are now on our hit list,” Khurasani said. “Osama bin Laden has given us the ideology of Islam and Jihad, by his death we are not scattered but it has given us more strength to continue his mission.”

In June 2011, Khurasani said the Taliban have been behind a spate of attacks in Pakistan, and he again threatened the U.S.

“Our war against America is continuing inside and outside of Pakistan. When we launch attacks, it will prove that we can hit American targets outside Pakistan,” Khurasani said.

In the same interview, Khurasani said that Ayman al Zawahiri is Al Qaeda’s “chief and supreme leader.” He stated this more than one week before Zawahiri was officially declared emir of Al Qaeda.

In March 2012, Khurasani released a propaganda tape in which he said the Taliban seek to overthrow the Pakistani government, impose sharia, or Islamic law, seize the country’s nuclear weapons, and wage jihad until “the Caliphate is established across the world.” [See LWJ report, Taliban commander wants Pakistan’s nukes, global Islamic caliphate.]

Khurasani initially gained prominence during the summer of 2007, when he took over a famous shrine in Mohmand and renamed it the Red Mosque in honor of the radical mosque in Islamabad whose followers had attempted to impose sharia in the capital.

The Mohmand Taliban took control of the tribal agency after the Pakistani government negotiated a peace agreement with the extremists at the end of May 2008. The deal required the Taliban to renounce attacks on the Pakistani government and security forces. The Taliban said they would maintain a ban on the activities of nongovernmental organizations in the region but agreed not to attack women in the workplace as long as they wore veils. Both sides exchanged prisoners.

The Taliban promptly established a parallel government in Mohmand. Sharia courts were formed, and orders were given for women to wear the veil in public. So-called “criminals” were rounded up and judged in sharia courts. Women were ordered to have a male escort at all times and were prevented from working on farms. The Taliban also kidnapped members of a polio vaccination team.

In July 2008, Khurasani became the dominant Taliban commander in Mohmand after defeating the Shah Sahib group, a rival pro-Taliban terror group with ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Pakistani military claimed it killed Khurasani in Jan. 2009, but the Taliban denied the report, and he resurfaced many times. Khurasani was also reported to have been killed in 2017, but he again emerged to deny the news of his death.

The Pakistani government placed a $123,000 bounty on Khurasani’s head in 2009.

Formation of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar

Khurasani split from the Movement of the Taliban in Aug. 2014 due to a leadership dispute and formed Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, 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.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar 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 U.S. consulate in Peshawar and polio vaccination teams in Karachi. In Aug. 2016, the US State Department added Jamaat-ul-Ahrar to the list of global terrorists organizations. State also issued a reward of $3 million for information leading tot he capture and prosecution of Khurasani.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar 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.

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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