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Possible Bin Laden successor killed in US drone strike

Ilyas Kashmiri Ilyas Kashmiri

Released by MSA's Research and Analysis Team:


Ilyas Kashmiri, described as the dark horse in the running to succeed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was killed in an American drone strike late Friday, June 3rd. Kashmiri was among eight other militants killed by the strike near the town of Wana in the South Waziristan tribal region. His death was confirmed on Saturday by Kashmiri's militant group, Harkatul Jihad al-Islami, which had issued the following handwritten statement to local media: "We confirm the martyrdom of our leader Ilyas Kashmiri in a US drone strike… The oppressor US is our only target and, God willing, we will take revenge on the US soon with full force." US and Pakistani officials have not yet officially confirmed his death. If confirmed, this would be the highest profile drone target since Beitullah Mehsud (former leader of the Pakistani Taliban) in 2009. The strike came just days after the formation of a Pakistan-US joint intelligence network to hunt down the most wanted jihadists, including Kashmiri, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammad Omar (Afghanistan Taliban), Atiya Abdur Rahman (al Qaeda) and Sirajuddin Haqqani (Haqqani Network). 

According to US intelligence and counterterrorism officials, Kashmiri was one of the most dangerous and most wanted leaders in Pakistan due to his training skills, commando experience, and strategic aspirations to target the West. The following provides more insight into Kashmiri's role:

„h He was the commander of "Brigade 313" of Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami, which has formed a close relationship with al Qaeda. Additionally, US court documents show hints of direct links between Kashmiri and Osama bin Laden.

„h He had recently been linked to the 2010 European Terror Plot which called for "Mumbai style" commando attacks throughout major European cities.

„h Kashmiri is said to have been linked to David Coleman Headley, the US citizen who confessed to helping scout targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. After his arrest, Headley had confessed to meeting with Kashmiri twice.


In MSA's perspective piece "After Bin Laden," we listed the most discussed potential bin Laden successors, including Ilyas Kashmiri. Given Kashmiri's prominence and his connection to plots targeting the West, his death is believed to be another major blow to the al Qaeda network. If Kashmiri had been chosen to succeed bin Laden, he could have furthered the strengthening ties between al Qaeda and Pakistan-based jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The appointment of Saif al-Adel as the new interim "caretaker" of al Qaeda seems to be temporary, which still leaves room for another to take control. Now that a potential leader has essentially been crossed off of the list, Ayman al-Zawahiri (the alleged second-in-command to bin Laden) is consolidating power while maintaining a low profile. Despite al-Adel's appointment, many still believe Zawahiri will be the one to officially replace bin Laden. The other potential leaders we had discussed – including Abu Yahya al-Libi and Anwar al-Awlaki – do not appear to have the orthodoxy, respect or money to firmly take command of the overall al Qaeda effort.

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