Top Pakistani militant Ilyas Kashmiri reported killed in US drone attack

Ilyas Kashmiri was a senior Al Qaeda operative believed to be behind some of the deadliest attacks, including a suicide attack on Pakistan’s spy agency and attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.

By , Staff writer

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    Pakistani television in Karachi reports the death of top militant leader Ilyas Kashmiri in a US drone strike in the tribal territory of South Waziristan. Kashmiri is believed to be behind some of the deadliest attacks in India and Pakistan.
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Ilyas Kashmiri, a top Pakistani militant and senior Al Qaeda operative, reportedly has been killed in a US drone strike in the tribal territory of South Waziristan, according to press reports and a statement from the group he headed.

Kashmiri is believed to be behind some of the deadliest attacks in India and Pakistan, including a 2009 suicide attack on Pakistan’s spy agency and attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.

He is the operations chief of a group called Harakut-ul Jihad Islami, which has some 3,000 militia members and is classified by the US as a terrorist organization tied to Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Punjabi Taliban.

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A Newsweek profile headlined “Is Ilyas Kashmiri the New Bin Laden?” said he “has the experience, the connections, and a determination to attack the West – including the United States—that make him the most dangerous Qaeda operative to emerge in years.”

A Pakistani intelligence official said Kashmiri was among nine militants killed in the strike. While identifying individuals killed in such attacks can be difficult, a fax from the militant group he was heading – Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami's "313 Brigade" – confirmed Kashmiri was "martyred" in the strike.

Described by U.S. officials as Al Qaeda's military operations chief in Pakistan, he was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused in a string of attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai massacre.

Kashmiri also has been linked to last month's assault on a Pakistani naval base in Karachi.

He is also accused of masterminding several 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. The US Department of State says he organized a 2006 suicide bombing against the US consulate in Karachi that killed four people, including an American diplomat.

The US had offered a $5 million reward for information on Kashmiri’s whereabouts.

The attack on Kashmiri comes just a month after US Navy SEALs killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hiding out in Pakistan, and it represents a major blow against the terrorist organization.

That operation – planned and carried out without informing Pakistan – strained relations between the two countries. Many sources found it difficult to believe that Pakistani intelligence services didn’t know of bin Laden’s whereabouts in a compound near military facilities.

Since then, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have gone to Islamabad as part of an effort to repair relations.

Secretary Clinton pointedly said there is no evidence that anyone at the highest levels of the Pakistani government knew bin Laden was living outside Islamabad, in Abbottabad, the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi reported recently. She also underscored the “close cooperation” between the US and Pakistan over the past decade that she said has resulted in the killing or capture of many “terrorists” and “violent extremists.”

Kashmiri and his men were said to be having tea in an apple orchard when the attack occurred, according to a BBC report. Local sources said two rounds of two missiles each were fired within a space of a few seconds. A Pakistani official later confirmed to the BBC that Kashmiri was among those killed.

In a statement faxed to a Pakistani television station, Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami spokesman Abu Hanzla Kashir said: “We confirm that our commander in chief, Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, was martyred in an American drone strike on June 3, 2011, at 11:15 p.m. God willing, America will very soon see our full revenge. Our only target is America.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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