(Written on February 23 by K.N. Pandita)
Shortly after the deadly bombing of the German Bakery in Pune on February 8, an influential South East Asian news agency received a message in Urdu from the top gorilla commander Ilyas Kashmiri, whose 313 Brigade is an operational arm of Al-Qaeda. The message warned the Indian government “to compensate for all its injustices to the Muslims, otherwise they will see our next action”. It added, “We warn the international community not to send their people to the 2010 Hockey World Cup, IPL and Commonwealth Games. If they do they will be responsible for the consequences. Nor should their people visit India. We, the mujahideen of 313 Brigade vow to continue attacks all across India…”
The mysterious 313 Brigade is linked to busted Chicago conspiracy case, which had planned to massacre Indian military officers, attack Indian nuclear arsenal and punish the cartoonist of a Danish newspaper for his anti-Muslim cartoon.
Who is this Ilyas Kashmiri, the sender of the message and what is his agenda?
Following the decision of top Pakistani civil and military leaders on October 9, 2009 to launch military operation against Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda think-tanks and operatives decided to broaden their plan against the Americans globally and not remain confined to AF-Pak region. Apart from Israel, the plan envisages extended Al Qaeda operations in South Asia where India stands out a significant ally of the Americans in war on terrorism.
Several terrorist attacks in the last quarter of 2009 like those on Indian Embassy in Kabul and military headquarter in Rawalpindi are reported to be the handiwork of Ilyas Kashmiri-led 313 Brigade. Pakistani intelligence suspected him of masterminding the conspiracy of killing General Pervez Musharraf in 2003.
US intelligence believes that Ilyas Kashmiri is the head of Al-Qaeda military operations who had been keeping a low profile in the organization. Some months back, his death in a US predator drone attack in North Waziristan operations was wrongly reported. However, it is true that many top commanders of Taliban-Al Qaeda combination were killed in the drone attacks. Prominent among them were Osama al-Kini, a Kenyan national and external operations chief of Al-Qaeda, Khalid Habib, the commander of Lashkar-e-Zil (Islamic Shadow Army), Tahir Yuldashev (the Uzbek warrior of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Baitullah Mahsud, the chief of Tehreek-i-Taliban-i- Pakistan.
Ilyas was born in Bhimbher (old Mirpur) in PoK in 1964 in Samhani valley and studied at Allama Iqbal University in Islamabad. He first joined Kashmir Freedom Movement, and then Harakatu’l-Jihad-I Islami (its 313 Brigade). In due course of time, it grew the most powerful group in South Asia with network strongly knitted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India especially Kashmir, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Footprints of 313 Brigade are traceable in Europe and it is capable of engineering 26/11 type of strikes.
In 1994, Ilyas Kashmiri launched al-Hadid operations in New Delhi to get some of his jihadi comrades released from prison… His group of 25, which included Sheikh Omar Saeed — the abductor of Daniel Pearl of Wall Street Journal— had kidnapped several foreigners with American, British and Israeli tourists among them. They were taken to a hideout in Ghaziabad. The abductors demanded release of their arrested colleagues. In the rescue attack by Indian forces on the hideout some of the kidnappers were killed, Sheikh Omar was wounded and Ilyas escaped the net. Sheikh Omar was later released at Kandahar in exchange of hijacked Indian aircraft passengers.
Thirty years ago when Ilyas Kashmiri had joined the Afghan jihad as a fighter of HUJI against the Soviets, he gained expertise in guerrilla warfare and explosives. There was the time when he became prized ISI and Pakistan Army backed mujahideen commander. Pakistani Generals found pride in listening to his heroic deeds at the warfront. But after becoming the head of Al-Qaeda military operations, he remains with Pakistan Army and civilian establishment the most wanted Al Qaeda commander on whose head a prize of 600000 US dollars has been announced.
On February 26, 2009, Indian commandos crossed the LoC in J&K, and launched counter attack on village Lonjot in PoK in which 14 civilians got killed. Next day Ilyas Kashmiri took 25 fighters of his 313 Brigade with him, crossed the LoC at Nakyal sector, kidnapped an Indian army officer, and beheaded him. The severed head of the officer was paraded in the bazaar of Kotli in PoK.
In a bid to avenge the Gujarat killings in 2002, Ilyas Kashmiri planned an attack on Akhnoor cantonment in Jammu region. He employed the war strategy he had picked up and mastered during mujahideen operations against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He divided the 313 Brigade force into two groups and lured Indian Generals, Brigadiers and other senior offices to the fatal scene of first attack. When his second group came into action, the result was that two Indian Generals were wounded and several Brigadiers and Colonels were killed. This was a telling set back to the Indian Army.
Considered top most gorilla warfare strategist, Ilyas Kashmiri re-defined Taliban led-insurgency based on Vietnam’s legendary gorilla General Vo Nguyen Giap’s three-pronged strategy. For Pakistani Taliban he emphasized the strategy of cutting NATO supply lines.
Though 313 Brigade is the main catalyst of high profile operations such as 26/11 or Al-Qaeda operations in Somalia, it’s important and veteran commander at an unknown place in Waziristan, Ilyas Kashmiri, has always kept his personal profile low. In a rare interview given to a South East Asian news agency last summer, he summarized his gorilla warfare strategy succinctly. He considers India and Israel as extensions of US’ resources and hence the necessity of debilitating both of them. “Al-Qaeda’s regional war strategy in which they have hit Indian target, is actually to chop off American strength”, he said. Echoing Islamabad’s allegations, Ilyas reportedly said that RAW has detachment command centers in Afghan provinces of Kunar, Jalalabad, Khost, Argun, Helmand and Kandahar. The cover operations, he believes, are road construction companies. For example, the road construction from Khost city to Tanai tribe is contracted to a retired Indian army colonel. When asked about his future plans in India, Ilyas said,”Mumbai attack is nothing to what is being planned for the future. Every target has specific time and reason and response will be according”.
Ilyas Kashmri, the 6-feet tall, one eye-lost and one finger cut off gorilla warlord says Al Qaeda or Taliban are not fighting against Pakistan, which is the friendliest country. They are fighting only against certain elements in Pak Army. 313 Brigade, he asserts is part of war tactics reading enemy’s mind and reacting accordingly. He is unhappy that most Muslims have no dimensions of their mind and that the Prophet of Islam left behind men who know not what defeat is. The world has yet to see true Muslims and wolves respect a lion’s iron slap.
The threat posed to India by Al-Qaeda is real and not imaginary. There is proper planning at the level of Al-Qaeda top cadres of dragging India to the vortex of disaster and mayhem. We have noted that Al-Qaeda operations depend on local support structure to a large extent. Wherever it is denied or difficult to accede, Al-Qaeda had no option but to retrace its steps. The question is how seriously Indian government looks at the threats and the vast mechanism behind it and to what extent is it prepared to face the challenge.