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Asia-pacific

US drone kills key al Qaeda militant, reports say

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-06-04

A US drone strike in Pakistan's restive South Waziristan has killed senior al Qaeda operative Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday. Kashmiri was on a US list of most-wanted militants.

REUTERS - A U.S. drone has killed a senior al Qaeda figure in Pakistan after a tip off from local intelligence, a Pakistani intelligence official said on Saturday.

The elimination of Ilyas Kashmiri appeared to be another coup for the United States after American special forces killed Osama bin Laden in a town close to Islamabad on May 2.

Pakistan’s cooperation in the killing could help repair ties with Washington, badly damaged when it was discovered that bin Laden had apparently been living close to a Pakistani military base for years.

“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,” said the Pakistani intelligence official.

Kashmiri was wrongly reported to have been killed in a September 2009 strike by a U.S. drone.

A Pakistani television station quoted the group Kashmiri headed, Harkat-ul Jihad Islami (HUJI) which is allied to al Qaeda, as saying the latest report was true.

“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 11:15 p.m.,” Abu Hanzla Kashir, who identified himself as a HUJI spokesman, said in a statement faxed to the station.

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

The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

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

He said they were in a house in South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan, that was believed to be the headquarters of Kashmiri’s group, which has been described as an operational wing of al Qaeda.

“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 official added. “It was a tipoff by us since we were closely monitoring his movements.”

Five of his close allies were also killed in the attack by a pilotless drone aircraft, along with two other militants, intelligence officials said.

US asked Pakistan to go after Kashmiri

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 U.S. team that killed him.

Kashmiri was on a list which the United States gave Pakistan of senior militants it wanted killed or captured, said a Pakistani official.

Drone strikes have increased under the Obama administration, sometimes killing civilians and fuelling anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

While Pakistani leaders publicly criticise drone strikes, analysts say killing high-value targets like Kashmiri would not be possible without Pakistani intelligence.

Washington called on Pakistan to crack down harder on militancy after it was discovered that bin Laden had been living about two hours by car from Islamabad. Pakistan is heavily dependent on billions of dollars of U.S. aid.

The U.S. Department of State has labelled Kashmiri a “specially designated global terrorist”.

Last year, the U.S. attorney’s office quoted a Chicago taxi driver charged with sending money to Kashmiri as saying the Pakistani militant had told him he “wanted to train operatives to conduct attacks in the United States”.

Kashmiri battled Soviet occupation troops in the 1980s in Afghanistan, where he lost an eye. His group also fought Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.

H

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

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, up to six militants held off 100 security forces, including commandos, for 16 hours.

 

Date created : 2011-06-04

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