March 9, 2012 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Al Qaeda Leader Ilyas Kashmiri Spotted at Taliban Meeting

A senior al Qaeda leader who is one of the terror group's most dangerous military commanders and strategists, and who was reportedly killed in a drone strike last June, has been spotted at a meeting with the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Ilyas Kashmiri, who has served as the chief of al Qaeda's military operations and a member of its external operations council, as well as the head of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami's Brigade 313, is said to have met with Hakeemullah Mehsud in North Waziristan, according to Daily Times.

Kashmiri “reportedly visited North Waziristan this week and held sittings with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] leader Hakeemullah Mehsud,” Daily Times reported. “Sources said that during the visit, Kashmiri spent a night with Mehsud, as his guest. During Kashmiri's visit to the TTP comrade in Waziristan, a renowned journalist from Islamabad was also reportedly present there.”

Kashmiri and Hakeemullah conducted a strategy session where they “allegedly reviewed the future strategy in connection with jihad, his [Hakeemullah's] movement and the present situation in Afghanistan.”

US intelligence officials claimed that Kashmiri was killed in a Predator strike on June 3, 2011 that leveled a compound in the Wana area of South Waziristan. Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, al Qaeda in Pakistan's top spokesman and propagandist, and seven other HUJI fighters were reported to have been killed in the strike.

Immediately after the strike, Abu Hanzla Kashir, a purported spokesman for Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, one of several al Qaeda military formations based along the Afghan-Pakistan border, claimed that Kashmiri and Farooq were killed in the strike [see Threat Matrix report, Was al Qaeda's leader of Pakistan killed in the South Waziristan Predator strike?].

But al Qaeda never released an official martyrdom statement announcing the deaths of Kashmiri or Farooq. And Kashir's account was immediately called into question when discrepancies in the statement were identified. In addition, a photo that was released with the statement and a photo purported to be that of Kashmiri's corpse turned out to be instead a photo of a member of the November 2008 Mumbai suicide assault team who was killed during that attack. Also, Farooq has released several propaganda tapes for al Qaeda since his purported death.

One month after the strike, anonymous Pakistani officials told Dawn that they believe Kashmiri is alive, and US and Pakistani intelligence never confirmed his death. Also, Kashmiri's family said it was never notified by jihadists of his death.

Last year, Indian intelligence officials stated that they believe Kashmiri faked his death to throw the US off of his trail. US intelligence officials have since told The Long War Journal that they are uncertain of Kashmiri's status, and said they have not seen definitive proof that he was indeed killed in the June 3, 2011 drone strike.

Kashmiri has been the subject of false death rumors in the past. In September 2009, Kashmiri was also reported to have been killed in a Predator strike. That report was quickly debunked one month later, however, when Kashmiri was interviewed by Syed Saleem Shahzad, the reporter from the Asia Times and AKI who is believed to had been killed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate last year.

Background on Ilyas Kashmiri

US intelligence considers Kashmiri to be one of al Qaeda's most effective commanders. He served as the operational chief of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an al Qaeda-linked group that operates in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami was designated as a terrorist entity by the US in 2010, and Kashmiri was added to the list of global terrorists for his role in leading HUJI as well as for his links to al Qaeda.

Kashmiri has also been linked to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which has viewed him as an asset due to his prowess in fighting the Indians in Jammu and Kashmir. He is said to have been a member of Pakistan's Special Services Group, although he denied it in an interview with the Asia Times in 2010. One legend attributed to Kashmiri is that he beheaded a sepoy and presented the head to General Pervez Musharraf.

In late 2003, Kashmiri was detained by Pakistani police for his alleged role in an attempted assassination of Musharraf, but he was inexplicably released in February 2004. Kashmiri resurfaced in 2007 after the Pakistani military assault on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad and assumed command of Brigade 313. Kashmiri expanded Brigade 313's leadership cadre and rank and file, bringing in members of terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, and a host of other terror groups, as well as members of Pakistan's military and intelligence services.

As the leader of Brigade 313, Kashmiri took little time in turning on select targets in Pakistan. Brigade 313 has been behind many of the high-profile attacks and bombings inside Pakistan, including multiple assassination attempts against former President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Gilani. He also orchestrated the 2009 attack on Pakistani Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the assault on a naval base in Karachi in May 2011.

Kashmiri was involved in the assassination of Major General Faisal Alvi, the retired commander of the Special Services Group, in Rawalpindi in late 2008. Alvi was killed just months after sending a letter to General Ashfaz Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's top military officer, in which he threatened to expose two Pakistani generals' involvement with the Taliban. Also, Kashmiri reportedly drafted a plan to assassinate General Kayani, but the plan was canceled by al Qaeda's senior leadership.

But Kashmiri's sights were not limited to Pakistan. He is thought to have played a major role in the multi-pronged suicide attack against government and security installations in the eastern Afghan province of Khost in May 2009.

Al Qaeda recognized Kashmiri's ability, and he was picked to lead the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, which operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Kashmiri took control of al Qaeda's military forces after its prior leader, Abdullah Sa'ad al Libi, was killed in a US Predator airstrike in late 2008.

Kashmiri was well-suited for the role, as he has long had experience in running camps in the region. “Since 2001, Kashmiri has led HUJI training camps that specialized in terrorist operations, military tactics, and cross-border operations, including a militant training center in Miramshah, North Waziristan,” according to the US Treasury report that added him to the list of specially designated global terrorists.

In 2009, al Qaeda give Kashmiri another top role in the terror network: he was appointed to serve as a member of al Qaeda's external operations network, which is assigned to strike at targets in the West. Kashmiri has been directly linked to one plot in the West. In January 2010, a US federal grand jury indicted Kashmiri for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Read in FDD’s Long War Journal

Issues:

Al Qaeda Pakistan