Veteran Al Qaeda leader killed in western Afghanistan

A veteran Pakistani jihadist who rose to the highest levels of leadership within Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was killed by Afghan security forces in a recent raid in Farah province. The Al Qaeda leader, known as Mohammad Hanif, was involved in the 2002 assassination attempt on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the suicide attack on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi that same year.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security announced Hanif’s death in a tweet on Nov. 10. The exact date of the raid, which took place in Bakwa district in Farah province, was not disclosed. FDD’s Long War Journal has assessed Bakwa as contested by the Taliban, meaning the Taliban control areas of the district and are battling the Afghan government for control.

Hanif was “given a safe haven and protection” by the Taliban at the time he was killed, according tot the NDS. He was “a very close aide to Asim Omar,” the presumptive emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent before he was killed in Helmand province in Dec. 2019. The NDS also claimed that Hanif served as the deputy leader “for a period” of time.

The NDS also said that Hanif was “operating in the nearby provinces of Helmand and Nimruz, providing bomb-making training to Taliban insurgents,” Voice of America reported.

The Taliban somehow continues to claim that Al Qaeda does not have a presence in Afghanistan, despite the recent killings of Hanif and Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf (a.k.a. Abu Muhsin al-Masri), a senior Al Qaeda leader who was killed by Afghan forces during a raid in Ghazni province last month. As part of its agreement with the U.S., the Taliban has said it would not allow Al Qaeda to plot attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

Al Qaeda had also made this same promise prior to 9/11.

A jihadi veteran

Hanif rose through the ranks of Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), a Pakistani jihadist group that operates in Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan.

HUM receives support from the Pakistani state despite the fact that its leader, Fazl-ur-Rahman Khalil, was an original signatory to Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa that declared war on the West. Khalil also was close to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. Khalil lives openly in Islamabad and enjoys the support of the Pakistani military. HUM supports Al Qaeda’s mission of establishing a global caliphate and is known to have sent its fighters to other theaters of jihad, such as Chechnya, Bosnia, and Somalia.

HUM is known to operate training camps inside Afghanistan, and senior HUM commanders, such as Badr Mansoor – who was killed by the U.S. in a drone strike in 2012 – have served as Al Qaeda military leaders. (Osama bin Laden describe Mansoor as a commander of an Al Qaeda “company.”)

Hanif first gained to public attention in July 2002 when he was arrested by Pakistani rangers in Karachi for his involvement in the April 26, 2002 assassination attempt on then-President Pervez Musharraf, and the June 14, 2002 car bombing at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi that resulted in the death of 12 Pakistanis.

Pakistan officials identified Hanif as the deputy leader of the Harakat ul Mujahideen al Alami (HUMA), a purported offshoot of HUM. However, it is likely that HUMA merely is a creation by HUM to provide plausible deniability in order for it to support Al Qaeda and attack the Pakistani state, all while continuing to receive support from the Pakistani state. [For more information on HuMA and its ties with Al Qaeda, see FDD’s Long War Journal report, US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official.]

The leader of HUMA was Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), who became a senior AQIS leader and member of the group’s executive council. Imran was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2015.

Imran and Hanif confessed to their involvement the Musharraf assassination attempt and the Karachi consulate attack during a press conference and in front of a judge. While Pakistani officials could not directly link the two to Al Qaeda at the time, it was noted then that Hanif indeed had “links with some Arabs.”

The two HUMA leaders and the group’s treasurer were tried and convicted of both attacks during separate trials, and ultimately sentenced to life in prison. The convictions were overturned by Pakistani courts. By 2010, the Sindh High Court set aside the last conviction related to the Musharraf plot and they were released from custody.

Not surprisingly, Hanif and Imran rejoined the jihad.

By 2015, Karachi’s Counter-Terrorism Department identified HUMA leaders as directing Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s branch in Karachi. AQIS was formed by Ayman al Zawahiri in 2014 as part of an effort to formalize the working relationship between Al Qaeda and the numerous Pakistan, Afghan, Indian and other jihadist groups operating in the region. AQIS incorporated elements from elements from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Harakat-ul-Muhajideen, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Brigade 313, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Indian Mujahideen (a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Junood al Fida, and other groups.

AQIS Karachi has been involved in several high-profile attacks, including the attempt to hijack two Pakistani warships and use them to attack the U.S. and Indian navies in the summer of 2014. In 2016, counterterrorism officials in Pakistan estimated the number of AQIS operative in Karachi alone at “at least a few thousand,” The Washington Post reported.

AQIS continues to wage jihad in Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s claims to the contrary. Hanif’s death is the latest example but far from the only proof.

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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