ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – An overnight attack by an unmanned aircraft killed Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaida-linked operative blamed for several high-profile attacks in Pakistan and India, local news reports and a statement by his banned militant organization said Saturday.
If borne out, this would be the second major U.S. anti-terrorism coup in quick succession, coming just a month after the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs. Analysts had identified Kashmiri as a possible bin Laden successor.
“This is very good news, especially on the heels of the bin Laden” killing, said Talat Masood, a security analyst and former Pakistani lieutenant general. “He’s a very important leader who played havoc with the region.”
Shoaib Khan, an assistant political agent in South Waziristan, confirmed the killing at a compound in Ghwa Khwa village, adding that Kashmiri and eight other militants were buried in a local graveyard. A senior tribal area official said separately that multiple sources had confirmed Kashmiri was dead.
That said, it’s difficult to corroborate deaths caused by drone attacks.
This is particularly true when the strikes occur in isolated border areas, including South Waziristan, site of the late Friday attack.
“We confirm that our emir (leader) and commander in chief, Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, was martyred in an American drone strike on June 3, 2011, at 11:15 p.m.,” Abu Hanzla Kashir, who identified himself as a spokesman for Kashmiri’s Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami group, said in a statement faxed to a Pakistani television station.
“God willing … America will very soon see our full revenge,” it added. “Our only target is America.”
According to Pakistani officials who asked not to be identified, the United States fired three missiles at the Ghwa Khwa compound about 10 miles from South Waziristan’s largest town of Wana, striking two rooms where the men were staying.
The BBC, which was first to report his death, said Kashmiri had recently returned from elsewhere in the tribal areas.
Analysts warned that Kashmiri’s death, if confirmed, could spark reprisals.
“This is great news,” said Javed Hussain, a security analyst and a former brigadier and special forces commander. “But there are so many vulnerable military locations in Pakistan. I expect more attacks on military targets and American sites. He supposedly had a very long reach, and it’s a ruthless organization.”