Islamabad: Top al-Qaeda linked militant, Ilyas Kashmiri, a key planner behind the gruesome Mumbai terror attack, was killed in a targeted US drone strike in Pakistan’s restive northwest, a month after the slaying of Osama bin Laden.
47-year-old Kashmiri, a former Pakistani army commando, on whose head the US had put a price of $5 million, was killed when a predator drone fired four missiles late Friday night at a compound in Ghwakhwa area of South Waziristan.
“The attack targeted Kashmiri”, Pakistan officials said. His outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami confirmed his death in faxed messages to TV channels here.
Confirming his killing, HuJI spokesperson Abu Hanzala said in a statement that “Commander Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a US drone attack” and that the outfit will take revenge on the US for this.
The killing of Kashmiri, who was widely speculated to take over as al-Qaeda chief after the killing of bin Laden, comes just days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed over a list of five most wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Kashmiri to Pakistan.
The others in the hit list include al-Qaeda No 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda operations chief Atiya Abdel Rahman, as well as Taliban leader Mullah Omar, all of whom US intelligence officials believe are hiding in Pakistan.
Pakistan and US have also announced setting up of joint intelligence teams to hunt down these most wanted men.
“Nine militants were killed in last night’s drone attacks and all of them were Pakistani Punjabi Taliban,” security officials said.
Kashmiri, who had lost one eye often wore aviator-style sunglasses. He also had a missing index finger and was notorious for his claim to have presented the severed head of an Indian soldier to the then President Pervez Musharraf.
Kashmiri was recently appointed the chief of the 313 brigade, an operational arm of al-Qaeda.
Kashmiri, a resident of Mirpur in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), is one of the most wanted terrorist by Indian security agencies.
Kashmiri has been linked to several major terror attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai strikes and the recent Taliban raid on the PNS Mehran naval airbase in Karachi.
The US was after him for quite some time. Recently in a Court testimony, confessed American terrorist David Headley had said that he had offered to US security agencies to travel undercover to Pakistan’s tribal areas to present Kashmiri with an ornate sword that could be fitted with a homing device to set him up for a missile attack.
British and American counter-terrorism officials believe that he was the main coordinator of a recent terror plot targetting Britain, France, Germany and Europe, which was reportedly in early stages when busted by intelligence agencies last year.
In January 2010, a US federal grand jury had indicted him for a terrorism related offences in connection with a plot to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten following an uproar over a blasphemous cartoon.