Iraqi al Qaeda leader reportedly killed in drone strike in Pakistan

A “key” al Qaeda commander was among seven jihadists reportedly killed in the Apr. 29 drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan, according to press accounts from the region. The strike took place in an area that the Pakistan military claimed was cleared of jihadists more than two years ago.

Abdul Raheem, an Iraqi citizen from Mosul, was an “important” figure for Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Daily Times quoted an unnamed Pakistani official as saying. It is likely that this Pakistani official was referring to Raheem’s position in Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

Other press reports described Rahmeem as a “key” and “senior” al Qaeda commander.

Seven jihadists, including “two militant commanders” known as Abdul Rehman and Akhtar Mohammad, were initially reported killed in the attack.

Al Qaeda has not commented on reports of Raheem’s death, nor has it issued a martyrdom statement. The US military has not confirmed that it carried out the drone strike in North Waziristan or reported that it killed Raheem. However, such confirmations can take time, or not come at all.

Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been targeted in drone strikes in Datta Khel. In 2010, the US killed Mustafa Abu Yazid, the group’s former general manager. Others perished in Datta Khel in late 2009, such as Abdullah Said al Libi, the emir of the Lashkar-al-Zil (al Qaeda’s military arm), and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a top Lashkar-al-Zil general. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Al Qaeda Shadow Army commander thought killed in Dec. 17 strike.]

Most recently, on Jan. 4, 2015, the US bombed Qari ‘Imran, a member of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s leadership council, in Datta Khel.

The Datta Khel area of North Waziristan is a hotbed of jihadist activity. The area is controlled by the Hafiz Bahadar Group, which is not targeted by Pakistan’s military. Al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Haqqani Network (a Taliban subgroup) are all known to shelter in the area.

The Pakistani military claimed in Sept. 2014 that it “cleared” Datta Khel of jihadist groups during Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which began months earlier, on June 15, 2014. But the operation targeted only the so-called “bad” Taliban, such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. These are the Taliban factions and groups that wage war against the Pakistani state. The Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group were not targeted in the operation, despite Pakistani military claims to the contrary.

The US has carried out 10 drone strikes in Datta Khel since the Pakistani military claimed that it was cleared. Sixty jihadists have been reportedly killed in the 10 strikes, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.

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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