Pakistani Militant Leader Reported Killed by US Strike

Islamabad, Pakistan – One of Pakistan’s most wanted militant commanders, Ilyas Kashmiri, has been killed in an American drone strike in the tribal territory of South Waziristan, residents and a militant member in the area said Saturday. Officials said they were also aware of the reports but could not confirm his death.

Mr. Kashmiri was considered one of the most dangerous and highly trained Pakistani militants, allied with Al Qaeda. A former member of Pakistan’s special forces, the Special Services Group, Mr. Kashmiri was suspected of being behind several attacks, including the May 22 battle at the Mehran naval base in the southern port city of Karachi. He has also been implicated in the terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, in 2008, in which 163 people were killed, including some American citizens.

He was killed Friday in a strike on a compound in Gwakhwa, not far from Wana, the main town of South Waziristan. He had recently returned to South Waziristan from another part of the tribal areas, the BBC reported.

The BBC first reported the news and said nine people were killed in the strike about 10 miles outside Wana. There was a second strike on Friday, reported in Karikot in the same region.

A known Taliban militant in Wana contacted by telephone confirmed that Mr. Kashmiri was killed. An intelligence official in Islamabad said he had not received any independent confirmation of the report.

Mr. Kashmiri’s death has been previously misreported. Officials claimed he was killed in a drone strike in September 2009, but he emerged later unharmed.

Mr. Kashmiri’s death will be welcomed by both American and Pakistani intelligence agencies and will go some way to alleviating the strained relations between the two countries that have developed in recent months, in particular since the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Pakistan has accused the United States of pursuing its own agenda in Pakistan without coordinating with Pakistani security forces, running its own intelligence agents and conducting unilateral strikes that ride roughshod over Pakistan’s sovereignty.

The United States has sent three high level delegations to Islamabad in recent weeks, the last one led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to try to repair relations. Ms. Clinton said the United States was looking for specific actions from Pakistan in coming days and weeks, including intelligence sharing, which had all but broken down.

Mr. Kashmiri was wanted by both countries and could have been a good target for renewed intelligence sharing. He is reported to lead a unit called the 313 brigade, and belongs to the group Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami, which is suspected of a number of high-profile attacks, including an attack against the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The attack on the navy base in Karachi, conducted by half a dozen commando militants, lasted 16 hours before security forces regained control of the base.

Mr. Kashmiri, 45, has a long history of waging guerrilla operations. As a Pakistani Army trainer of Afghan mujahedeen fighters, he lost an eye battling Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Later, while working with Kashmiri militants attacking India, Pakistan’s rival, he earned renown in Pakistan after escaping from an Indian jail where he was imprisoned for two years.

But Mr. Kashmiri turned against the state after President Pervez Musharraf banned his group after the Sept. 11 attacks. He was arrested four years later in connection with an attempted assassination of Mr. Musharraf in December 2003, but released because of a lack of evidence.

After the Pakistani government laid siege to Islamic militants in the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, Mr. Kashmiri moved his operations to North Waziristan and took up arms with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban there. He is listed as the fourth most wanted man by the Pakistani Ministry of the Interior, according to Pakistani media reports.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say Mr. Kashmiri is among the most dangerous militant leaders in Pakistan today because of his training skills, commando experience and strategic vision to carry out attacks against Western targets.

The article “Pakistani Militant Leader Reported Killed by US Strike” originally appeared in The New York Times.