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Terror chief a target amid al-Qaida fears

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Islamabad, Pakistan (UPI) Apr 12, 2011
President Barack Obama's administration has posted a $5 million bounty on the head of Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the most dangerous figures linked to al-Qaida, amid reports Osama bin Laden is plotting a new offensive.

Kashmiri, a veteran 6-foot jihadist who sports a long white beard dyed with reddish henna, is now one of bin Laden's top commanders and strategists.

He has nearly three decades of combat experience waging a guerrilla war against the Indians, and more recently the Pakistanis. He also has a $1 million Pakistani bounty on his head, mainly for assassinating several top army officers.

Kashmiri is reputed to be a former commando with Pakistan's elite Special Services Group.

He fought a guerrilla war against the Indians in his native Kashmir. Later he lost an eye fighting alongside the Islamist mujahedin against the Soviet Army in the 1979-89 Afghan War.

The Americans have been after Kashmiri, 46, for some time and in September 2009 thought they killed him in a missile strike. But he had eluded them and the following month gave a rare interview to prove he was still around.

He headed Brigade 313, al-Qaida's elite military organization in Pakistan, which includes seasoned fighters from half a dozen jihadist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami.

Amid a growing fusion of these organizations around al-Qaida, Brigade 313 -- named after the Prophet Mohammed's 313 companions who fought at his side him in the seminal Battle of Badr against the Meccans March 13, 624 A.D. -- was rebranded Lashkar-e Zil, or the Shadow Army.

Kashmiri is now considered one of al-Qaida's top strategists, and his worldview, as articulated in the few interviews he has given in recent years, indicates he has moved away from a wholly regional focus, as in Kashmir, to center firmly on hitting the United States.

"Analyzing the situation in any narrow regional political perspective was an incorrect approach," he told an interviewer in 2009. "This is a different ball game altogether … The defeat of American global hegemony is a must if I want the liberation of my homeland, Kashmir."

The Shadow Army, said to be several thousand strong, now appears to be the central node of al-Qaida's global operations.

It is reputed to have close links senior officers in Pakistan's military and its intelligence services such as the principal agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

The Shadow Army is split into at least three "brigades." These fought pitched battles with the Pakistani army in 2008-10, in one instance driving off a large force supported by tanks.

Al-Qaida and its allies have suffered considerable losses among its leadership cadre since the summer of 2009, largely through covert U.S. missile strikes using Predator and Reaper drones.

But al-Qaida has made good its losses by recruiting veteran commanders from affiliated groups, some of which have been linked to jihadist operations in the West in recent years.

Kashmiri is reported to have put together a group of Pakistanis and others who have lived in the West for most of their lives and are capable of operating in Western societies.

There have been persistent reports that some of these operatives have been formed into special cells with white-skinned Western converts to Islam to carry out suicide operations in Europe and the United States.

The latest report came from a 14-year-old would-be suicide bomber named Fida Hussain. He was captured in Pakistan April 3 after his explosives-packed vest failed to detonate during an attack in Punjab province.

Two other bombers successfully detonated their charges, killing 41 civilians and wounding more than 60 outside a Sufi shrine.

The Long War Journal, which monitors terrorist activity worldwide, reported that Hussain told interrogators he was among 350 boys and young men who trained in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, a jihadist stronghold for suicide operations.

Mir Ali is one of three regions in North Waziristan that are major havens for al-Qaida, the Taliban and a variety of South and Central Asian terrorist organizations. The others are Miramshah and Datta Khel, all repeatedly hit by U.S. air strikes.

Kashmiri's signature tactic is using several suicide teams in a coordinated attack against a high-value, prestige target.

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