By Shashi Shekhar
December 30, 2009
With anti-India jihadis at the helm of Al Qaeda’s shadow army, New Delhi must pay heed to how the efforts by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, HuJI and Indian Mujahideen contribute to Al Qaeda’s overall geo-political strategy for South Asia. Failing to do so will be fatal
A recent report has for the first time described Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami’s 313 Brigade, as the chief of Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army also called Lashkar-al-Zil. In the past Pakistan-based Al Qaeda’s operatives Abu Obaida al-Misri and Khalid Habib have been described as holding that role in the Lashkar-al-Zil. While Al-Misri is believed to have died of Hepatitis B back in January 2008, Khalid Habib is believed to have died in a Predator drone strike in October 2008. Since Khalid Habib’s death in last year’s Predator strike no other Al Qaeda leader was described as having replaced Khalid Habin until the December 24 report in the Asia Times describing Ilyas Kashmiri as the chief of Lashkar-al-Zil.
Bill Roggio writing in the Long War Journal in February describes the Lashkar-Al-Zil as being organised under a military structure that has a clear-cut command structure with established ranks. A senior Al Qaeda military leader is placed in command of the Shadow Army, while experienced officers are put in command of the brigades and subordinate battalions and companies. In article Bill Roggio also explains that this was the result of a revamp and reorganisation of the Shadow Army’s precursor Brigade 055.
To know how this reorganisation of the Shadow Army with a military structure could have come about we must rewind back to September 2007 when the Asia Times first reported that former Pakistan military men were operating out of the Waziristan camp of Ilyas Kashmiri. The report described the men as mostly ex-middle cadre (captains, majors, colonels). Subsequently in February 2008 the Asia Times quoted a certain Abu Harris, former Lashkar, that the addition of former jihadis, who were trained by Pakistani intelligence to fight in Kashmir, and some retired Pakistani Army officers to Al Qaeda’s ranks has brought about a major change in the group’s operational approach while describing Al Qaeda’s rationale and justification for Khuruj or revolt in Pakistan. It may not be a coincidence that the latest report in Asia Times on December 24 also describes at length Al Qaeda’s rationale for why the Pakistani Army must be attacked. It quotes extensively from a book titled Sharpening the Spearheads for Fighting the Pakistani Army by Abu-Yahya Al-Libby, an Al Qaeda ideologue.
In the aftermath of 26/11 much of the focus and attention in India has been narrowly focussed on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Not as much attention has been paid to how the efforts by Lashkar, HuJI and Indian Mujahideen contribute to Al Qaeda’s overall geo-political strategy for South Asia. Even lesser attention has been paid to the steady rise of Pakistan-based anti-India jihadis like Ilyas Kashmiri within Al Qaeda’s ranks over the last few years.
The December 24 report in Asia Times also described Ilyas Kashmiri as the chief conspirator of both the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the subsequent planning for new attacks in India that have come to light since the arrests in the US of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana in the Chicago conspiracy case. Specific attention needs to be paid to two references to the Chicago conspiracy case in the December 24 report in the Asia Times in light of Ilyas Kashmiri’s role in the planning for new attacks in India.
The first reference has to do with the description of Major Abdul Rehman as Ilyas Kashmiri’s main adviser. A perusal of the various filings by the FBI does not reveal any reference to Abdul Rehman being described as Ilyas Kashmiri’s main adviser. When viewed in light of references to retired Pakistani military officers advising Al Qaeda from 2007 and 2008, it must be taken that quite likely Abdul Rehman was indeed Ilyas Kashmiri’s main adviser. The second has to do with a reference to the Indian Parliament as being one of the targets of attacks planned in New Delhi apart from the National Defence College. Once again a perusal of all filings by the FBI and subsequent media reports reveals no reference to the Indian Parliament being a target.
Since the FBI filings in the Chicago conspiracy case could not have been the source for identifying Maj Abdul Rehman as Ilyas Kashmiri’s adviser and also could not have been the source for identifying Indian Parliament as a potential target, we must take it that Syed Saleem Shahzad’s references to either must be based on information from jihadi sources. There is good reason for these references to not be ignored. Similar India-centric warnings that appeared in the Asia Times between September and October 2008 had not received much attention in the run up to 26/11.
The first report appeared on September 13, 2008 specifically spoke of how a December 13, 2001-type mobilisation by India along the Pakistan border could tip the balance of events in Pakistan. The second report appeared on October 11, 2008 specifically referred to spectacular acts of terror to be carried out by Al Qaeda’s global operations in November 2008 outside Pakistan.
It is clear that Al Qaeda’s objectives and intent to trigger terrorist attacks in India remain unchanged in the hope of provoking a conflict with Pakistan thereby distracting and undermining American efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Home Minister P Chidambaram delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture called for a radical restructuring of the Home Ministry based on new internal security architecture with a firm focus on counter-terrorism. While Mr Chidambaram cannot be faulted for his intentions the same cannot be said of the political will of his Government in acting against terror with a sense of urgency. Let us not forget that the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai came exactly three days after a speech by the Prime Minister on November 23, 2008 calling for a 100-day roadmap to counter terrorism. Anti-India jihadis at the helm of Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army have India on their sights and are unlikely to be deterred by 100-day roadmaps and eloquent speeches on a revamped internal security architecture.
Source: Pioneer, New Delhi
-- The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.