Ilyas Kashmiri, reported killed in a drone attack on Friday in South Waziristan, has been linked to virtually every high-profile terrorist operation in Pakistan from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the attempted assassination of General Pervez Musharraf, as well as the attack on the Mehran Base in Karachi last month.
The one-eyed jihadist has been named by U.S. investigators as the key conspirator in the plot to bomb the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, based on the testimony of the Pakistani-American David Headley, who was arrested in Chicago for his role in the plot, and is now the main prosecution witness in the 26/11 trial in the U.S.
Only last week, Headley revealed that Kashmiri had planned to kill the head of aircraft maker Lockheed Martin to avenge drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas. During her recent visit to Pakistan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported to have demanded that Pakistan track him down without delay. If his elimination was the result of intelligence sharing by Pakistan, it may mark a new chapter in the ties between the two countries after the rupture over Osama bin Laden's killing in a secret U.S. operation.
From Afghanistan to Kashmir to South Waziristan, Ilyas Kashmiri was the personification of the connections between the various militant groups based in Pakistan, and their linkages to al-Qaeda.
From his bases in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, he was believed to be churning out trained jihadists in the cause of al-Qaeda, prompting the U.S. to announce a $5 million bounty for him. He had been targeted in several drone attacks earlier, and was once even believed to have been killed, wrongly as it turned out.
Kashmiri reportedly masterminded the deadly suicide attack on a CIA base in the Khost province of Afghanistan in December 2009. He also claimed to have been behind the German Bakery bombing in February 2010 in Pune. His name has also been linked with the 26/11 attacks.
The only ever journalist to have ever interviewed Kashmiri – as recently as October 2009 — and who could have confirmed if he has indeed been killed, was Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistani journalist who was himself found dead in mysterious circumstances following his disappearance last Sunday.
From what has been reported in the Pakistani press about Kashmiri, he headed the 313 brigade, an operational arm of the al-Qaeda in Pakistan that he had raised when he was with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen-Islami, a Pakistan-based group that first fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and later set its sights on Kashmir.
He was once arrested by the Indian Army in Kashmir, but managed to escape and return to Pakistan. According to a report by the well-known Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, he was felicitated by none other than General Pervez Musharraf with a cash award for bringing back the head of an Indian soldier he had killed.
But he is said to have fallen out with the Pakistani military establishment soon thereafter, and was arrested for the December 2003 assassination attempt on President Musharraf.
Kashmiri, who was released a year later, cooled his heels for the next three years. According to Mr. Mir, he was back in action after the 2007 Pakistan military operation against militants holed up in Islamabad's Lal Masjid, which “totally changed” him.
He moved to North Waziristan where he attached himself to al-Qaeda and reorganised the 313 Brigade, this time for a war against Pakistan.
A UN enquiry into Benazir Bhutto's killing in December 2007 named Kashmiri as one of the possible masterminds of that assassination.
Soon after the 26/11 attacks, Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistani journalist found dead days ago, linked Kashmiri and the al-Qaeda to the attack. He reported that they had turned a relatively less ambitious ISI-planned attack into the spectacular terrorist show in Mumbai with the aim of causing a war between India and Pakistan in order to divert attention from the Afghan border.
This theory, debunked in India as seeking to exonerate the ISI for the Mumbai attacks, now appears in a book by him, “Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11,” published in the United Kingdom three weeks ago.
The only interview he gave was to Shahzad in October 2009, a month after he was wrongly reported killed in a drone attack in the North Waziristan area.
In the interview, Kashmiri explained his move from the militancy in Kashmir to al-Qaeda thus: “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 theatre.”
He also warned that the world should expect more “Mumbai-like” attacks. “That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future.” He said he had chosen to join al-Qaeda because they were “both victims of the same tyrant.” “If all of the Muslim world is asked to elect their leader, their choice would be either [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar or Sheikh Osama,” he added.
It was Shahzad again who reported Ilyas Kashmiri's involvement in the suicide attack on a CIA forward base in Khost on December 31, 2009, which killed seven of its officers and wounded six others. Soon after that, the Pakistani media reported that the U.S. had demanded his arrest and extradition to the U.S.
And it was to Shahzad that he is purported to have sent an email claiming that the al-Qaeda was behind the German Bakery attack in Pune in February 2010, also warning of more attacks in India targeting international sporting events due to be held that year.
In August 2010, the U.S. declared him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The UN also designated Kashmiri and the HuJI under Resolution 1267.