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    South Asia
     Aug 31, 2011

New leader plans attacks on Pakistan
By Hamza Ameer

ISLAMABAD - Al-Qaeda-linked 313 Brigade has appointed a new chief, Shah Sahib, following the death of its commander Ilyas Kashmiri in a United States-operated drone attack in the South Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan in June.

The decision came after weeks of consultation among members of various militant organizations active in the tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan.

Shah Sahib, a well-known Taliban commander, has been selected to initiate major alliances and finalize consultations ahead of Eid - the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan - to launch fresh assaults against the Pakistan security forces.

South Waziristan-based journalist Din Mohammed Wazir

confirmed the appointment. "Recently, I spoke to one of the leading members of 313 Brigade of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami in Wana [the largest town of South Waziristan] and he confirmed the appointment of Shah Sahib as the new leader, but added that his nomination was only for a certain period of time, and then the central shura [council] will choose a permanent amir [leader]."

In addition to running 313 Brigade, Kashmiri was operational commander of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), an Islamic fundamentalist militant organization most active in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India since the early 1990s. (For an interview with Kashmiri, see Al-Qaeda's guerrilla chief lays out strategy, Asia Times Online, November 3, 2009.)

Reports of Kashmiri's death surfaced in both local and international media after a June 3 drone strike in a remote village of South Waziristan. Mystery still surrounds his death, but ground sources, both local officials and the Taliban, have persistently confirmed his death. Even his group - the HuJI - reported his death in a press release issued to local media outlets.

Kashmiri was among the five most-wanted militants by the United States, a list of which was handed to Pakistan when the Barack Obama administration recently blocked US$800 million in aid on suspicions over Pakistan's loyalty in the "war against terror".

The death of Kashmiri has been used as a justification by the US for the increased drone campaign in Pakistan's tribal areas, something that is strongly opposed by tribal locals and which has been said to be "counter-productive" by Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani.

However, the US received further good news this week with reports that al-Qaeda's number two, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, had been killed in a drone strike on August 27 in North Waziristan.

With the appointment of Shah Sahib as the new leader of Brigade 313 and fresh alliances being formed, a major assault is now expected to be launched immediately after Eid at the end of August.

Chinese leader for foreign militants
Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, a Chinese Uyghur, has taken control of overall command of foreign militants in Pakistan's tribal region. He has always been on good terms with the major Pakistani Taliban outfits.

Turkistani is also believed to have played a key role in the formation of the Itehad-e-Shur-e-Mujahideen in 2009 (Union of the Consultative Council of Mujahideen) comprising militant groups focused on fighting in Afghanistan. Also a part of this was the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban - TTP).

Turkistani worked under Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, a former leader of the Eastern Turkistani Islamic Party, and the late Qari Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He belongs to the Chinese Uyghur, a banned group actively operating in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. He is known for promoting "Islamic extremism".

The Chinese government recently deployed at least 200,000 security personnel to pursue Uyghurs in the region following a clash between Uyghurs and the Chinese security personnel that left at least 23 Uyghurs dead in Hotan city last month.

The three major factions of the TTP, meanwhile, are strengthening their alliance. The aim is to launch joint operations in Afghanistan against coalition forces, to hunt down spotters for drones and to adopt a collective strategy to confront any military adventures by the Pakistani government in restive North Waziristan.

Well-placed Taliban sources told Asia Times Online that the decision was made at a recent meeting of members of the TTP and factions led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazeer in a remote area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The sources added that the meeting was overseen by the powerful Haqqani network and al-Qaeda.

Lashkar-e-Khorasan (Army of the Khorasan) has been specifically formed to monitor drone spies in South Waziristan and North Waziristan. It consists of six members from each group and operates under the aegis of Bahadur.

The group has so far hunted down dozens of local and Afghan tribesmen allegedly spying on militants for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-operated drones.

One of the group's members told Asia Times Online, "A week ago, we conducted a series of secret operations across Wana sub-division and captured an aged man hailing from the Mehsud tribe. We shifted him to our secret compound and during investigation he revealed that the spy network consisted of both local and Afghan tribesmen. This was one of the most successful operations in recent years against CIA-linked spy networks active in the region."

The Afghan Taliban have also become more active in Pakistan's border areas, making more alliances with the TTP for increased attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan and for joint operations against Pakistani security forces.

As Pakistan reels from floods, political paralysis, unrest in the major city port of Karachi and sectarian violence in Balochistan province, militants are preparing to escalate their activities on both sides of the border.

Hamza Ameer is a Pakistan-based journalist. He is a news correspondent for Press Tv Iran & Egypt News.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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