'Key al-Qaeda commander killed' in Pakistan

Ilyas Kashmiri was on a list which the US gave Pakistan of senior al-Qaeda members it wanted killed or captured.

    A US drone strike has killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior al-Qaeda-linked figure, in Pakistan's tribal region after a tipoff from local intelligence, according to a Pakistani intelligence official.

    A US embassy spokesman said on Saturday he could not confirm the killing of Kashmiri or whether Pakistan provided support for an operation.

    But a Pakistani television station quoted the group Kashmiri headed, Harkat-ul Jihad Islami (HUJI), as saying the report of his death was correct.

    "We confirm that our amir [leader] and commander-in-chief, Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, was martyred in an American drone strike on June 3, 2011, at 11:15pm," Abu Hanzla Kashir, who identified himself as a HUJI spokesman, said in a statement.

    "God willing ... America will very soon see our full revenge. Our only target is America."

    The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

    While Pakistani leaders publicly criticise US drone attacks, analysts say killing important targets like Kashmiri would not be possible without Pakistani intelligence.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, Shaukat Qadir, a former military brigadier in the Pakistani army, said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, probably played a role in Kashmiri's elimination.

    Pakistani official's account

    Kashmiri and other fighters were with an Afghan Taliban member involved in liaison with the Pakistani Taliban when the drone's missile struck, the Pakistani intelligence official said.

    He said they were in a house in South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan.

    Shaukat Qadir, former military brigadier, says Pakistan's ISI probably played role in catching Kashmiri

    The area is believed to be the headquarters of HUJI, which has been described as an operational wing of al-Qaeda and which has also fought Indian rule in Kashmir.

    "We were closing in on him and he switched off his satellite phone and cellphone and he wanted to cross the border to Afghanistan to find a hiding place," the intelligence official said. "It was a tip-off by us since we were closely monitoring his movements."

    "We are sure that he [Kashmiri] has been killed. Now we are trying to retrieve the bodies. We want to get photographs of the bodies."

    Five of Kashmiri's close allies were also killed in the attack, by a pilotless drone aircraft, along with two other armed men, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

    The apparent elimination of Kashmiri is another coup for the US after American special forces killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda chief, in a garrison town close to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, on May 2.

    Kashmiri, said to be a former Pakistani military officer, was wrongly reported to have been killed in a September 2009 raid by a US drone.

    US wanted list

    Kashmiri was on a list which the US gave Pakistan of senior al-Qaeda members it wanted killed or captured, a Pakistani official said.

    The Pakistani media has speculated that Kashmiri was the mastermind of an attack on the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi last month which humiliated the Pakistani military.

    In that operation, six armed men held off 100 security forces, including commandos, for 16 hours.

    Kashmiri is also accused of masterminding several bloody raids on Pakistan police and intelligence buildings in 2009 and 2010, as well as a failed assassination attempt against then-president Pervez Musharraf in 2003.

    He has also been linked to attacks including the November 2008 rampage through the Indian city of Mumbai which killed 166 people.

    In an ongoing terror trial in Chicago related to the assault, testimony from an American-Pakistani suspect, David Coleman Headley, also alleged that Kashmiri had been angry over US drone attacks inside Pakistan.

    The US department of state says Kashmiri organised a 2006 suicide bombing against the US consulate in Karachi that killed four people, including an American diplomat.

    The state department had labelled Kashmiri  a "specially designated global terrorist".

    Kashmiri battled Soviet occupation troops in the 1980s in Afghanistan, where he lost an eye.

    Anti-American protests

    While Kashmiri's death will be well received by the US and Pakistani governments, people in Pakistan are "angry" about the continued "hugely unpopular" drone attacks in Pakistan, Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab reported from Islamabad.

    Tthere was public protest in Karachi on Saturday where thousands of workers of the main Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, rallied in opposition to the drone attacks.

    Protesters chanted "Stop drone attacks", "Stop NATO supplies" and "Any friend of America is traitor".

    Since Barack Obama became US president in 2008, drone strikes have increased in Pakistan, killing more than 200 people in less than three years, several of which were civilians.

    These deaths have fuelled anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

    But Pakistani analysts also say Kashmiri's death is good news for the country, which has failed to subdue armed groups seeking to topple its government despite a series of army offensives against their strongholds.

    The killing of bin Laden aroused international suspicions that Pakistani authorities had been complicit in hiding him, and led to domestic criticism of them for failing to detect or stop the US team that killed him.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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