The Death of Ilyas Kashmiri
by ADRIAN MORGAN, THE EDITOR
June 6, 2011
On Friday June 3, Ilyas Kashmiri was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike. Kashmiri headed the Islamist terror group called Harkatul Jihad Islami. Following the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1 (local time), it was briefly postulated that Kashmiri was a candidate to take over as the acting head of al-Qaeda. He was head of an al-Qaeda unit known as the 313 brigade.
According to the U.S. State Department, Kashmiri had given the orders for a combined ballistic and bomb attack upon the regional headquarters of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, in Lahore, Punjab province. That attack on the twin buildings of the local Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) on May 27, 2009 killed 35 people, including seven agency personnel. A senior ISI figure, identified as Colonel Amir, was among the dead.
Kashmiri had also been closely linked to the people who kidnapped a Hindu Pakistani film-maker called Satish Anand, who was snatched in the port city of Karachi in the south of Pakistan in October 2008. Anand was freed in April 2009 after a ransom was paid, with Ilyas Kashmiri involved in the negotiations. Though kidnapped in the south, Anand had been released in North Waziristan, in the north of Pakistan.
Kashmiri is said to have been involved in planning the November 2008 attack upon Mumbai, India in which multiple bombings and hostage taking resulted in the deaths of more than 160 people. Kashmiri is also said to have been behind a recent plot to attack people in Europe, connected with the production of the notorious Danish “Mohammed cartoons”, which were published by the Jyllands-Posten newspaper on September 30, 2005. It is possible that information gleaned in the preparation for trials connected to these events may have led to the discovery of Ilyas Kashmiri’s location.
The current Chicago trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana for his alleged involvement in the Mumbai bombings, relies heavily upon the confession and cooperation of David Coleman-Headley, who has already pleaded guilty. Headley confessed last year to acting as a scout prior to the attacks, finding suitable locations for the attack. Headley is acting now as a witness for the prosecution, and has claimed that “Major Iqbal,” a senior figure in the ISI, Pakistan intelligence agency, gave him orders. Headley also did reconnaissance in Denmark in 2009, for proposed attacks upon the Jyllands-Posten newspaper and staff.
Three days before the drone attack that killed Ilyas Kashmiri, Headley told the Chicago court that Kashmiri had asked him to provide details of Lockheed Martin and its CEO. Headley said that in August 2009 he had used one of Tahawwur Hussain Rana’s work computers to search for details of the defense contractor and aircraft manufacturer. The U.S. company manufactures aircraft employed by the Pakistan navy such as the P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft. However, it is the company’s manufacture of drones that had led to Ilyas Kashmiri wanting revenge upon the company.
On September 10 last year, a one-legged Chechen boxer resident in Belgium, identified later as Lors Doukayev, was arrested in Denmark. He had blown up a hotel toilet in Copenhagen, and himself, while trying to assemble a letter-bomb to send to Jyllands-Posten’s offices. The explosive for the bomb, (TATP or triacetone triperoxide) had gone off by accident. Steel pellets in the explosive pock-marked Doukayev’s face. After a two-week trial, Doukayev was found guilty exactly a week ago, on May 30, 2011. 25-year old Doukayev was given a 12-year jail sentence on May 31, and will be expelled from Denmark after serving his term.
The fatal drone attack upon Ilyas Kashmiri took place outside Wanaa, which is the main city of South Waziristan in Pakistan’s FATA tribal areas adjoining the Afghan border. The strike took place late on Friday night (local time) at the village of Laman. Nine people were killed in the attack. Later Abu Hanzala, spokesman for Harkatul Jihad Islami, confirmed that Kashmiri had been among the dead. In a handwritten message, he vowed:
“We will take our revenge of our leader on the United States.”
A spokesman for Lala Wazir, another prominent militant in South Waziristan, also confirmed that Ilyas Kashmiri had been killed.
Under the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice scheme, America had placed a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the death or apprehension of Kashmiri. The reward notice states that Ilyas Kashmiri, born in 1964, has a
“thick beard dyed white, black, or red with henna at any given time… Has lost sight in one eye; wears aviator sunglasses; missing an index finger.”
The confirmation of his death is important; in September 2009, it was announced that Ilyas Kashmiri had been killed in a drone attack that took place in North Waziristan on August 14 of that year. Another individual with links to Al Qaeda, Uzbek national Nizamuddin Zalalov, was also reported to have been killed on the same day.
Harkatul Jihad Islami (HuJI)
Harkatul Jihad Islami, also known as Harkat ul Jihad al-Islami, the Movement of Islamic Holy War, had been headed by Kashmiri since 2001. It has a checkered history. Its parent group had been founded in the 1980s by and initially had been designed to be part of the jihad against Russian occupying forces in Afghanistan. The name used by this group had initially been Jamiat Ansarul Afghaneen (JAA) - the Party of the Friends of the Afghan People.
At some stage before the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended in 1989, JAA had changed its name to Harkatul Jihad Islami. It also merged its operations with another Islamist group called Harkatul Muhajideen, and collectively the combined group called itself Harkatul-al-Ansar. This group began focusing its operations on the disputed territory of Kashmir, engaging in terror attacks against the Indian-occupied region (Jammu & Kashmir state).
In Bangladesh in 1992, an offshoot of HuJI, called Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami Bangladesh, had been formed, and continues to operate with links to the parent HuJI group. The Bangladeshi group has been involved in deadly attacks in India, such as the attack upon Varanasi which took place in March 2006.
Harkatul al-Ansar became designated in 1997 by the USA as a terrorist entity, and in some regions members of the group gave themselves the name Harkatul Muhajideen, while others continued to call themselves Harkatul Jihad Islami. The original HuJI had been led by Qazi Saifullah Akhtar and Fazlur Rehman Khalil, veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. In 1998, Khalil had signed the fatwa by Osama bin Laden to attack American and Western interests. Another former member of Harkatul al-Ansar, Masood Azhar, had been imprisoned in India in 1994. When Azhar was released, he set up a similar group, called Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was more militant and had a desire to extend its sphere of terrorist operations beyond the Kashmiri field of conflict. In 2000, there was a large defection of people from Harkatul Muhajideen to Jaish e-Mohammed.
Fazlur Rehman Khalil and Qazi (Qari) Saifullah Akhtar split HuJI into two factions with each figure leading his own brancjh of the group, though the two factions still remained in contact.
After 2001, when HuJI’s base in Afghanistan was lost, many members moved into South Waziristan, where other cadres of Islamists, such as Uzbeks and Afghan Taliban, had fled. It was at this time that Ilyas Kashmiri (his real name is not known) became the head of HuJI in Pakistan.
The Harkatul Mujahideen (HM) group continued to be active, based in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, under the leadership of co-founder Fazlur Rehman Khalil. In March 2006, Khalil was dumped outside a mosque in a suburb of Islamabad. He and his driver had been snatched from a mosque and severely beaten. Both had head injuries. The identity of the assailants was unknown. Fazlur Rehman Khalil was in a critical condition but survived. Khalil had been arrested by Pakistani authorities three times but had been released on all occasions, even though Pervez Musharraf had banned HM in 2001. When he had recovered from his beating, Khalil went into hiding again.
One of the four bombers who killed 52 people in London on July 7, 2005, was linked to Harkatul Muhajideen. Shehzad Tanweer had apparently spent time at a HM training camp in Manshera, Pakistan, close to the border with Kashmir.
The leniency given by Pakistani authorities to HM, HuJI and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JM) groups has led Indian intelligence to claim that the groups were working for the Pakistan ISI.
On December 25, 2003, the motorcade of Pervez Musharraf was attacked by suicide bombers who tried to ram vehicles in the convoy. Various Islamist activists were arrested, and Ilyas Kashmiri was among these, being apprehended in January 2004. On February 21, 2004, Kashmiri was released.
HM had been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 1994. The designation of Harkatul Jihad Islami and its leader Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri did not happen until August 6, 2010. According to the designation order:
Harakat-ul Jihad Islami’s area of operation extends throughout South Asia, with its terrorist operations focused primarily in India and Pakistan. Harakat-ul Jihad Islami’s relationship with al-Qa’ida flourished after the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan. It has provided fighters for the Taliban in Afghanistan and training of HUJI members in al-Qa’ida training camps. HUJI has carried out a number of terrorist attacks. On March 2, 2006, HUJI was responsible for the suicide bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, which killed four people, including U.S. diplomat David Foy, and injured 48 others. HUJI is also responsible for terrorist attacks in India including the May 2007 Hyderabad mosque attack, which killed 16 and injured 40, and the March 2006 Varanasi attack, which killed 25 and injured 100. In January 2009, a federal grand jury indicted HUJI’s leader Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri for terrorism-related offenses in connection with a terrorist attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark.
As with many Pakistani jihadists, Kashmiri was reexamining his relationship with the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). After 9/11, Pakistan began limited crackdowns on jihadist groups, restricting their activity in Kashmir and shutting down training camps. The clearest challenge to the Pakistani state came with assassination attempts on President Musharraf in 2003, organized by HuJI operative Amjad Hussain Farooqi. The ISI detained Kashmiri on a number of occasions for his alleged role in these attacks, links to al-Qa`ida and refusing to shut down his operations in Kashmir. Although a major suspect in the attacks, Kashmiri was released, apparently due to lack of evidence or pressure from other Kashmiri jihadist leaders. He transferred his operations from Kotli to Ramzak in North Waziristan Agency in 2005 where he was back on familiar ground from his days fighting the Soviets.
According to some sources, Ilyas Kashmiri may also have been responsible for the murder of Khalid Khawaja, a former senior ISI member. Khawaja was a friend of the notorious Canadian Khadr family, who also had known bin Laden and supported him. Khawaja had been kidnapped on March 26, 2010, along with a British video journalist, a driver, and also “Colonel Imam” another former senior figure of the ISI. They had been snatched in North Waziristan, after meeting Sirajuddin Haqqani and Waliur Rahman Mehsud of the Pakistan Taliban.
In videos released shortly after being captured, Khawaja (or Khwaja) had claimed that Colonel Amin Sultan Tarar had gone to the meeting at the bidding of the ISI. He had said:
“I had consulted with Gen Aslam Beg (former army chief) about coming here. I came here on the prodding of Lt Gen Hameed Gul, General Aslam Beg and ISI’s Colonel Sajjad.”
On the reasons for his mission to meet Pakistan Taliban leaders Sirajuddin Haqqani and Waliur Rahman Mehsud, Khawaja said: "I was sent by the Pakistan Army in North Waziristan because it was badly caught in the middle of a conflict. I was sent to get reconciliation between the army and the Taliban so that the terrorists would give safe passage to the military to leave the area."
Khawaja claimed that some leading jihadists were proxies of the ISI, who were given a "free pass" to collect funds for jihad. These figures included Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, the founder of Harkatul Muhajideen, and Maulana Masood Azhar, who is the secretary of Harkatul Mujahideen and leads his own terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammad. According to Khawaja's "confession", Abdullah Shah Mazhar (a former leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad) was also working with the ISI.
Khawaja said: "I brought here a list of 14 commanders and was aiming to malign them among militant circles ... Abdullah Shah Mazhar, Fazlur Rahman Khalil, Masood Azhar and jihadi organizations like Laskhar-e-Taiba, al-Badr, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen, Jamiatul Mujahideen etc. operate with the financial cooperation of the Pakistani secret services and they are allowed collect their funds inside Pakistan."
The kidnappers claimed to be from a group calling itself the “Asian Tigers,” a previously unknown group. On April 30, Khawaja’s body was found beside a road in North Waziristan. He had been shot in the head. The “Asian Tigers” demanded a ransom of $10 million and the release of certain imprisoned Islamists as conditions for Colonel Imam’s release.
Colonel Imam, aka Colonel Amin Sultan Tarar.
Asad Qureshi, the British journalist, and the driver were both releasedin September 2010, after a ransom had been paid. Colonel Imam, aka Colonel Amin Sultan Tarar, was not so lucky. It was announced in January 2011 that he had been killed, though his captors did not release his body. Colonel Imam had been a strategic adviser and logistics expert who had helped to set up the Afghanistan Taliban at the bidding of the ISI.
Shortly after Colonel Imam’s death was announced, his body was found in the Mir Ali region of North Waziristan. This is a region where Ilyas Kashmiri had influence. When kidnapped movie-maker Satish Anand was released from being a captive, after negotiations with Ilyas Kashmiri, he was found not far from this location. Ilyas Kashmiri at this time (2009) had become effective as a kidnapper who used hostage payments to fund the greater jihad.
After Colonel Imam’s body was found, the Pakistani authorities were claiming that the “Asian Tigers” were in fact a loose alliance of al-Qaeda- and Taliban-linked jihadists, led by Ilyas Kashmiri, who went under the title of Lashkar-e-Zil.
It is still unclear how information that led to the death of Ilyas Kashmiri came about. It is possible that Kashmiri’s death in a drone attack on Friday was merely fortuitous, but this is unlikely. Pakistan has recently been extremely sensitive about American drone attacks, so there is high likelihood that this particular attack was carried out with th eful knowledge of, and cooperation from, the Pakistani government.
It is even possible that the ISI, who appear to have formerly supported the activities of the HuJI/Jaish-e-Mohammed/Harkatul Muhajideen nexus, decided to give up Kashmiri to the U.S. as a sign of repairing of the damage to the two countries’ relations after the killing of bin Laden. When bin Laden was killed, the Pakistani authorities were not told beforehand, and it became apparent that certain figures in the army and ISI had protected the head of al Qaeda in his compound in Abbotabad, under the noses of the Pakistan military. Tensions between the USA and Pakistan reached their lowest point since former President Musharraf had agreed to assist in the War on Terror.
The attack upon the naval airbase in Karachi on May 22 this year, led by a small group of less than 20 Taliban activists, and apparently carried out with help from the inside, caused Pakistan to further lose face.
It is highly possible that Pakistan decided to share information with the Americans to save face, and to reduce further embarrassment. In the Pakistani media, there are no reports of ministers being outraged at the attack on Kashmiri, which in the current febrile atmosphere, is surprising.
There are still some doubtsabout whether Kashmiri was among the dead, as no bodies have been examined. Ilyas Kashmiri has living relatives in Azad Kashmiri in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir; samples of DNA could be matched for verification.
Yesterday, Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik said he was “98 percent sure” that Ilyas Kashmiri had been killed.
The death of Kashmiri is important in a symbolic manner, though it is likely that his operations will be easily replaced by others in the HuJI/HM/JM nexus. One could also include the Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaat ud-Dawa (groups formed by Hafiz Saeed and both implicated in the Mumbai attacks of November 2008) in this nexus.
Ilyas Kashmiri is one commander, a successful jihadist who used kidnapping to fund the Pakistan al-Qaeda/Taliban network. His death will briefly set back the growth of the greater Pakistani jihad, which seeks to submit the entire nation to Sharia law. This ambition is shared by many political groups, such as the 6 parties of the MMA, and also by many senior figures within the ISI.
Ilyas Kashmiri’s death will create a small void in the Pakistan jihad network, for a brief space of time, but soon there will be other skilled jihad commanders who will step in to close the gap. The death of one regional commander among the enemy’s ranks is not a sign that the war is even close to being won.
The two groups that really need to be onside for this war to be won are the Pakistan military and the ISI. So far, these closely-connected bodies have shown that they have enough sympathizers for jihad among their ranks for it to become increasingly hard to trust them.
He has a weekly internet radio show on the Radio Jihad Network, called Global Security Matters, every Friday evening at 6 pm Eastern Time.