Pakistani Taliban faction claims spokesman was captured in Afghanistan

On Apr. 17, the Pakistani military said that Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesman of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a dangerous faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, voluntarily surrendered. Today, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar insisted that Ehsan was “arrested” in eastern Afghanistan and later turned over to the military.

Major General Asif Ghafoor, the spokesman for the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations branch, claimed that Ehsan “turned himself into our security agencies,” Dawn reported.

Pakistani authorities were eager to trumpet Ehsan’s alleged surrender as a victory. “There can be no bigger achievement for Pakistan than the fact that our biggest enemies are now realizing the error of their ways and are turning themselves in,” Ghafoor said.

However, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar disputes Ghafoor’s account. Earlier today, the group issued a statement attributed to Asad Mansour, its new spokesman, claiming that Ehsan was captured on Mar. 7 by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D) along with “three other colleagues” and subsequently turned over to the Pakistani military. According to Mansour, Ehsan was captured in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, which borders Pakistan and is a known haven for multiple jihadist groups.

Mansour accused the Pakistani military of using “the Mujahideen prisoners to lure” other jihadists into negotiations and their eventual “surrender.”

Ehsan has been an influential spokesman and the face of Pakistani jihadist groups for the past decade. He served as the spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan up until 2014, when Jamaat-ul-Ahrar split off from the group and formed its own branch. Ehsan joined Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and became its spokesman. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar reunited with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan earlier this year, but has maintained a degree of autonomy.

As spokesman for both groups, Ehsan has taken credit for some of the more gruesome attacks and atrocities in Pakistan over the years. In 2011, Ehsan gleefully noted that his fighters kidnapped 25 young boys, as well as a group of parents and tribal elders in Bajaur.

Ehsan joined other jihadists in condemning the Pakistani Taliban’s assault on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec. 2014. More than 140 people, mainly children, were killed. However, Ehsan’s denunciation may have been merely a self-interested denial that was intended to distance himself and others from the unpopular slayings.

In Mar. 2015, Ehsan tweeted that his comrades were responsible for the assassination of Samiullah Afridi, the lawyer for Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden.

After the 2016 Easter Day massacre in a park in Lahore, Ehsan proudly claimed the slayings, saying the “target was Christians.” At least 72 people, mostly women and children, were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the blast.

A dangerous jihadist group with global ambitions

Ehsan’s now former group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, threatens the Pakistani state, while supporting allied regional and global jihadist groups.

The leadership of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is known to have ties to multiple jihadist organizations operating in the region. Omar Khalid al Khurasani, one of its top leaders, is closely linked to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. Khurasani has called for the imposition of sharia law and the establishment of a global caliphate. He has also said that a primary goal of the Pakistani Taliban is to obtain nuclear weapons. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Taliban commander wants Pakistan’s nukes, global Islamic caliphate and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar celebrates 9/11 attack.]

After the US killed Mullah Mansour, the emir of the Afghan Taliban, in a May 2016 drone strike in Pakistan, Ehsan mourned his death and urged Muslims to intensify their efforts to wage jihad.

“With regret the Muslim world has lost a great mentor,” Ehsan said after Mansour’s death.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar also celebrated the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US, saying it will continue to wage jihad until a global caliphate is established. This is a goal shared by al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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