Ilyas Kashmiri's Brigade 313 in the vanguard of global jihadist movement
Even as the Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley resumes his testimony before a jury in Chicago on Tuesday, the commander he worked for has emerged as the central figure in a war that threatens to tear Pakistan apart.
Last week, Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State, was in Islamabad to demand action against five top al-Qaeda figures — among them, Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, the jihadist leader Headley turned to for backing after the Lashkar-e-Taiba withdrew support for his plan to stage an attack in Denmark.
Brigade 313, the group Kashmiri commands, has trained ever-growing numbers of cadre for strikes against the West — but is also thought to have carried out the recent strike on a Pakistani naval base in Karachi, as well as string of other strikes in the country.
Pakistani media have reported that the country's military is considering strikes against his bases in troubled North Waziristan — a prospect it has long resisted, fearing an escalation of attacks.
The country's intelligence services are said to be increasingly concerned by extensive networks within Pakistan's armed forces which are sympathetic to Brigade 313 — a claim that gains credence from the fact that Abdur Rahman Hashim, who liaised between Headley and the Brigade 313 commander was a former military officer.
Back in November 2008, when a 10-member Lashkar assault squad attacked Mumbai, guided by footage gathered by Headley during months of covert surveillance operations for the organisation, Kashmiri was little known outside the Pakistani jihadist movement.
In the time since, Kashmiri's Brigade 313 — an al-Qaeda affiliated unit that draws its name from the numbers of soldiers who fought alongside the Prophet Muhammad to defeat the numerically-superior armies of pagan Mecca — has emerged as the vanguard of the global jihadist movement.
Last summer, Kashmiri was at the centre of a Europe-wide terror alert after intelligence services warned that he was training several western operatives for Mumbai-style attacks on the region's capitals. The intelligence was based on testimony from Ahmad Siddiqi, a German national arrested by United States forces in Afghanistan.
German nationals Shabab Dasti and E B?nyamnin, along with their French counterpart Naamen Meziche — all recruited from an Islamist-controlled Hamburg mosque once used by the 9/11 hijackers — were killed in a September 2010 drone strike on a facility run by Kashmiri.
British national Ahmad Jabbar, another of those reported to have been in training for the attacks, was also killed in a strike on a similar training camp —much like those which Headley trained at.
Evidence of Kashmiri's connections among the Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. and Europe emerged during investigations into Headley's plans to attack the Jyllands Posten, a Danish newspaper that incensed many Muslims by publishing cartoons they saw as blasphemous.
In August 2009, Headley flew to the United Kingdom to meet two contacts Kashmiri had told him might be able to help plan the attack in Denmark. The men, Headley told India's National Investigation Agency, were from Kashmiri's home town, Kotli.
Known to Headley as “Basharat” and “Sufiyan,” neither Derby jihadist was ever arrested — raising the prospect that one or both might have been informants for the United Kingdom's domestic intelligence service, MI5. MI5 was later to pass on information on Headley's meeting with the men to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, leading to the Pakistani-American jihadist's arrest.
From London, Headley flew on to Stockholm, to meet another contact introduced to him by Major Hashim. “Farid,” as the contact was known, was an immigrant from Morocco — the home of Headley's third wife, Faiza Outhalla.
‘Farid', however, refused help, saying he was under constant police surveillance, forcing Headley to conduct surveillance on the Jyllands Posten office in Copenhagen alone.
Further evidence of Kashmiri's extensive networks among Pakistani diaspora has surfaced with some regularity since Headley's arrest.
Last spring, investigators arrested Raja Lahrasib Khan, a Chicago taxi driver, on charges of funnelling funds to Kashmiri to purchase weapons. He also discussed plans for setting off improved explosive devices in a local stadium with an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation officer.
India has also been targeted by the network. In a posthumous, 26-minute audiotape released by the al-Qaeda after the killing of its ranking commander Said al-Masri in 2008, the organisation said Kashmiri had helped carry out a bombing in Pune.
Even though al-Masri's account of the bombing was exaggerated and inaccurate — he evidently believed Pune was India's capital, and that 20 Jews were killed in the attack — Indian investigators say Kashmiri may well have helped the networks that carried out the strike.