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June 4, 2011

Ilyas Kashmiri reportedly killed in US drone attack

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI), was killed in a US drone attack near Wana, South Waziristan, on Friday night, Pakistani officials said Saturday. Shoaib Khan, a political agent, confirmed that Kashmiri had died in the strike at a militant compound in Ghwa Khwa area. “Kashmiri was killed in the late night attack,” Mr Khan told journalists.

Dawn newspaper quoted a Pakistani official as saying that there were “strong indications” that Kashmiri had been killed, but that it was impossible to provide 100 per cent confirmation. The corpses were burnt beyond recognition and swiftly buried. The Nation quoted local sources as saying the bodies of the militants were collected Saturday morning and buried in the nearby graveyard. 

A hand-written brief statement in Urdu-language from a purported spokesman of the HuJI, distributed in Wana Bazaar on Saturday afternoon, confirmed that Kashmiri was killed.
“Harkatul Jihad al-Islami’s 313 Brigade confirms that in Friday’s drone attack at 11:15pm our commander-in-chief, Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, was martyred,” the spokesman, Abu Hamzullah Kasher, said in the statement. No one has heard of Kasher before and there is no independent confirmation of his claim.

However, A spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said Kashmiri was “alive and safe”, and had not been present at the time of the strike.

Who was Ilyas Kashmiri?

Kashmiri was number four on the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s most wanted terrorist list in 2009 as reported by The News International on September 1, 2009.

On August 6, 2010, the U.S. government and the United Nations designated Pakistan's Harakat-ul Jihad al-Islami as a foreign terror group and blacklisted its commander Ilyas Kashmiri who was labeled by the US as "Specially Designated Global Terrorist." Washington had put a bounty of $5 million on his head under a “reward for justice” program.

Born in Mirpur in the Samhani Valley of Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 10, 1964, Ilyas passed the first year of a mass communication degree at Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. Probably he did not continue due to his involvement in ‘jihadi’ activities.

Kashmiri was mistakenly pronounced dead in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on September 7, 2009, but just one month later his interview was conducted by Asia Times Correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was abducted from Islamabad on May 29 and his tortured body was found two days later in a canal. In an article published on May 27 in the Asia Times, Shahzad claimed that Kashmiri was behind the attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22. At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.  Shahzad said that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.

In his October 15, 2009 interview with Ilyas Kashmir, Shahzad pointed out that  Kashmiri’s bases and activities have always remained shrouded in secrecy. However, the arrest of five of his men in Pakistan earlier this year and their subsequent grilling helped lift the veil. Their information resulted in CIA drone strikes against him, the first in May and then again on September 7, when he was pronounced dead by Pakistani intelligence, and finally on September 14, after which the CIA said he was dead and called it a great success in the "war on terror."

Kashmiri lays out strategy

Syed Saleem Shahzad was invited to a secret hideout in the South Waziristan, along Pak-Afghanistan border for the interview. Here are excerpts from Shahzad’s interview with Ilyas Kashmiri published under the title: Al-Qaeda's guerrilla chief lays out strategy:

Shahzad: Do you believe that the upcoming South Waziristan operation will be the 'mother of all operations' in the region, as some analysts say.

Kashmiri: I don't know how to play with words during an interview. I have always been a field commander and I know the language of battlefields. I will try to answer your questions in the language I am familiar with.

Saleem! I will draw your attention to the basics of the present war theater and use that to explain the whole strategy of the upcoming battles. Those who planned this battle actually aimed to bring the world's biggest Satan [US] and its allies into this trap and swamp [Afghanistan]. Afghanistan is a unique place in the world where the hunter has all sorts of traps to choose from.

It might be deserts, rivers, mountains and the urban centers as well. This was the thinking of the planners of this war who were sick and tired of the great Satan's global intrigues and they aim for its demise to make this world a place of peace and justice. However, the great Satan was full of arrogance of its superiority and thought of Afghans as helpless statues who would be hit from all four sides by its war machines, and they would not have the power and capacity to retaliate.

This was the illusion on which a great alliance of world powers came to Afghanistan, but due to their misplaced conceptions they gradually became trapped in Afghanistan. Today, NATO does not have any significance or relevance. They have lost the war in Afghanistan. Now, when they realized their defeat, they developed an emphasis that this entire battle is being fought from outside of Afghanistan, that is, the two Waziristans. To me, this military thesis is a mirage which has created a complex situation in the region and created reactions and counter-reactions. I would not like to go into the details, to me that was nothing but deviation. As a military commander, the reality is that the trap of Afghanistan is successful and the basic military targets on the ground have been achieved.

Shahzad: The relocation of 313 Brigade from Kashmir was itself proof that foreign hands were involved in Afghanistan.

Kashmiri:
The entire basis of your argument is wrong, that this war is being fought from outside of Afghanistan. This is just an out-of-context understanding of the whole situation. If you discuss myself and 313 Brigade, I decided to join the Afghan resistance as an individual and I had quite a reason for that. Everybody knows that only a decade ago I was fighting a war of liberation for my homeland Kashmir.

However, I realized that decades of armed and political struggles could not help to inch forward a resolution of this issue. Nevertheless, East Timor's issue was resolved without losing much time. Why? Because the entire game was in the hands of the great Satan, the USA. Organs like the UN and countries like India and Israel were simply the extension of its resources and that's why there was a failure to resolve the Palestinian issue, the Kashmir issue and the plight of Afghanistan.

So I and many people all across the world realized that analyzing the situation in any narrow regional political perspective was an incorrect approach. This is a different ball game altogether for which a unified strategy is compulsory. The defeat of American global hegemony is a must if I want the liberation of my homeland Kashmir, and therefore it provided the reasoning for my presence in this war theater.

When I came here I found my step justified; how the world regional powers operate under the umbrella of the great Satan and how they are supportive of its great plans. This can be seen here in Afghanistan." He added that al-Qaeda's regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.

The RAW [India's Research and Analysis Wing] has detachment command centers in the Afghan provinces of Kunar, Jalalabad, Khost, Argun, Helmand and Kandahar. The cover operations are road construction companies. For instance, the road construction contract from Khost city to the Tanai tribe area is handled by a contractor who is actually a current Indian army colonel. In Gardez, telecommunication companies are the cover for Indian intelligence operations. Mostly, their men operate with Muslim names, but actually the employees are Hindus.

Shahzad: What turned you from the most-beloved friend to the most-hated foe in the eyes of the Pakistani military establishment?

Kashmiri: Pakistan is my beloved country and the people who live there are our brothers, sisters and relatives. I cannot even think of going against its interests. It was never the Pakistan army that was against me, but certain elements who branded me as an enemy to cover up their weaknesses and to appease their masters. 

The Kashmir Freedom Movement

According to Shahzad, little is documented of Ilyas' life, and what has been reported is often contradictory. However, he is invariably described, certainly by world intelligence agencies, as the most effective, dangerous and successful guerrilla leader in the world. 

The Kashmir Freedom Movement was Ilyas Kashmiri’s first exposure in the field of militancy, then the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI) and ultimately his legendary 313 Brigade. This grew into the most powerful group in South Asia and its network is strongly knitted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. According to some CIA dispatches, the footprints of 313 Brigade are now in Europe and capable of the type of attack that saw a handful of militants terrorize the Indian city of Mumbai last November.

He left the Kashmir region in 2005 after his second release from detention by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and headed for North Waziristan. He had previously been arrested by Indian forces, but he broke out of jail and escaped. He was then detained by the ISI as the suspected mastermind of an attack on then-president Pervez Musharraf, in 2003, but was cleared and released. The ISI then picked Ilyas up again in 2005 after he refused to close down his operations in Kashmir.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.