August 22, 2017: The most wanted ameer of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahraar (TTP-JuA), Commander Omar Khalid Khorasani, who used to play football with the heads of the Pakistani soldiers,was finally droned by the American CIA in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia on October 18, 2017. The dreaded Islamic terrorist, whose real name was Abdul Wali Raghib, used to operate from Afghanistan, just like the fugitive TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah. With his death, the Jamaatul Ahraar has suffered a death blow.
According to the JuA spokesman Asad Mansoor, Commander Khorasani suffered fatal injuries in a US drone strike in Paktia on October 18 and died a day later, on October 19, 2017. Eight close associates of Khorasani also died in thesame drone strike.The Pakistani military establishment was more than happy to see a US drone take out the notorious Khorasani. Islamabad has long asked for just such action in the border areas, where TTP and its splinter groups entrenched themselves after operation after Army’s Zarb-e-Azab operation drove them out of Pakistani tribal areas. Khorasani was responsible for 100-plus terrorist attacks in Pakistan in a short span of three years since 2014, when he had launched his Jamaatul Ahraar.
Jamaatul Ahraar has so far killed hundreds of people in fidayeen attacks and suicide bombings and is considered one of the most dangerous militant groups in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation. Despite the successes of the Pakistani military operation in the tribal belt, the JuA has repeatedly displayed its ability to regroup and strike well enough to inflict heavy damage.With Khorasani gone, media reports suggest that senior militant commander Asad Afridi has emerged as the favourite to become the new leader of the Jamaatul Ahraar.Asad Afridi was close to Omar Khalid Khorasani, who had declared him his deputy as well his possible successor. Khorasani was seen as ruling the group with an iron fist;all powers were in the hands of. Therefore, the group was considered to be a one-man show.
According to security analysts, it is not clear if Asad Afridi would change tack if he were to be confirmed as Khorasani’s successor, but there are concerns within the group about his power base among ethnic Pashtun tribes who live along the Afghan border.Afridi is from the Zakha Khel area of Pakistan’s Khyber region but Khorasani, and most JuA fighters, are from the Mohmand region to the north. The JuA was basically formed in the Mohmand Agency and the majority of the Taliban fighters and commanders are from Mohmand. Therefore,Khorasani’s aides would prefer to see someone from the same area as his successor.Asad Afridi did not have a religious or formal school education but had a history of fighting and had at one point fought US troops in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban.
The JuA had emerged as the most deadly Pakistani Taliban faction over the past two years. At one point, Khorasani had alliedhis group with the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh before rejoining the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, led by Mullah Fazlullah. Khorasani had a background that reads like a history of the Pakistani militancy.He was born in Qandaro, a village in Mohmand Agency named after Qandari sub-clan of the Safi tribe. Born as Abdul Wali Raghib, he adopted the nom de guerre of Omar Khalid Khorasani in 2007. His father was a prayer leader at a local mosque. Khorasani studied at a local school and then at a madrassah in Karachi. Radicalised at an early age, Khorasani joined Harkatul Ansar (now Harkatul Mujahideen), one of the myriad of militant groups fighting in Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan.
In 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, Khorasani set up an office of Harkat in the Gandao Mian Mandi area of Mohmand Agency, where he recruited fighters for ‘jehad’ against the US“Occupation forces” in Afghanistan. As a low cadre commander of Harkatul Mujahideen, Khorasani, a firebrand demagogue, rose to prominence during those days by recruiting Islamic fighters in droves. He established contacts with some top al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban figures who transited through the Mohmand Agency when moving between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also set up a camp in Safi area near the Pak-Afghan border to train young recruits, from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal region, in the use of weapons. Tribesmen in Gandao recall how Khorasani used to travel to different villages on his motorcycle to raise funds for the freedom struggle in Kashmir.
The little-known aspect of Commander Khorasani was his interest in poetry. He was a popular poet in the local literary circles, but most of his poetry was religious or devotional as he mostly composed Naats (in praise of Prophet Mohammad (POBUH) and Hamads (in praise of Allah). He was an active member of the Mohmand Adabi Ghuncha, a local literary circle formed by popular poet Ghulam Hussain Mohib. The society used to have regular sessions at the office of local journalist Mukaram Khan Atif, who was killed in 2012 by Khorasani’s faction of the TTP. More interestingly, Khorasani had also tried his luck in journalism. He used to work for an Urdu-language newspaper, Islam, for some time. He also edited Ahya-e-Khilafat, or Revival of Caliphate, a monthly magazine of the JuA until his death.
In July 2007, Pakistan Army commandos stormed Islamabad’s notorious Lal Masjid after a long standoff with two radical cleric brothers (Maulana Abdul Rasheed and Maulana Abdul Aziz) and their gun totting militants who were holed up inside the mosque. Incensed by the Pakistan Army’sOperation Clean Up which killed 100-plus militants inside the mosque, Khorasani, who by that time had trained countless fighters for Kashmir and Afghanistan, vowed to avenge the Lal Masjid operation. He cobbled together a band of fighters and took over the shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai, an early 20th century freedom fighter and spiritual leader, and the adjacent mosque and named it after Lal Masjid or the Red Mosque. Though he later vacated the shrine and the mosque, Khorasani remained militarily active in the Mohmand Agency.
In December 2007 when Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander from North Waziristan region, formed the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Khorasani was named ameer of the group’s franchise in the Mohmand Agency. He unleashed a reign of terror and emerged as the most ferocious militant by vanquishing or killing all contenders, especially Commander Shah Khalid.By the time an American drone killed Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009 in North Waziristan, Khorasani has established himself as a ferocious Taliban commander. After the death of Baitullah’s successor, Commander Hakeemullah Mehsud by another US drone in November 2013 in North Waziristan, Khorasani decided to part ways with the TTP. He was not happy with the ascendency of Mullah Fazlullah as the TTP chief, mainly because the latter was a non-Mehsud and non-Waziristani. Subsequently, he formed TTP Jamaatul Ahraar, whichquickly gained prominence in September 2014 when it announced support for the Islamic State (IS), or Daesh(led by Commander Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi) whilediscarding the TTP.
However, by March 2015, Khorasani realized that discarding the TTP umbrella for the sake of a Middle East-based jehadi commander, was not a good decision. He, therefore, decided to rejoin the Pakistani Taliban by renaming his group as TTP JuA, and by showing allegiance to Fazlullah. Khorasani’s death in the Afghan province of Paktia has given credence to the confessional statement of his one-time lieutenant and JuA spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, that his ameer was on the payroll of Afghanistan and was transported to India several times for briefing by the Indian agencies. According to the confessional statement of Ehsan, who had surrendered before the Pakistani military authorities in April 2017, Indian and Afghan intelligence services funded and facilitated Afghanistan-based TTP JuA for terrorist activities in Pakistan.
The ISPR spokesman did not elaborate on how Ehsanullah surrendered. He, however, said there can be no bigger achievement for Pakistan than the fact that the state’s biggest enemies were surrendering to the forces.The Pakistan Army released a recorded statement of Ehsanullah Ehsan on April 25, 2017 claiming that:“We fled to Afghanistan after the Army launched operations in North Waziristan. There we developed contacts with NDS (National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan) and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), which supported and funded them”. Ehsanullah, whose original name is Liquate Ali, said in a 5-minute-53-second video clip released to media by the Inter-Services Public Relations. The ISPR spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, soon after the release of the clip, tweeted: “Ehsanullah Ehsan exposes hostile foreign agenda and their designs to destabilise Pakistan. Our youth is our strength, shall never fall prey”.Ehsan is seen in the video saying NDS and RAW gave targets to TTP and JuA, who received remuneration for every activity they carried out in Pakistan.
It has always been known that Pakistani terrorist groups having bases on Afghan soil worked in collaboration with NDS and RAW for carrying out attacks. Ehsan’s statement helped strengthen Pakistan’s case that it is a victim of terrorism unleashed by hostile spy outfits of its neighbours. Ehsanullah shed light on how the communication between TTP/JuA and NDS/RAW worked. “In Afghanistan, they have formed some committees through which they remain in touch with RAW,” he said about contacts with the Indian intelligence. Meanwhile, NDS facilitated the movement of Pakistani terrorists. He said their movement always happened with the approval of NDS.“NDS has issued Tazkiras (local ID documents) to them (TTP/JuA terrorists) so that they could move from one place to another, without which movement is difficult,” he said.
At one point in his video statement, Ehsanullah claimed that he had once questioned Omar Khalid Khorasani for getting support from the Indian RAW. “I told Khalid Khorasani that what we are doing is helping Kuffaar by carrying out activities within our country and killing our own people. In a way we are serving them,” he said, adding this led him to believe that militant leaders were serving their personal interests and pursuing “some sort of agenda”. Ehsanullah blamed his former colleagues for sending foot soldiers to fight Pakistan Army, while keeping themselves safe in their sanctuaries. He spoke about turf wars within the TTP, and said that its leadership was misleading youths in the name of religion and recruiting them for their own designs.
“Islam does not allow this,” said Ehsanullah, who had in the past claimed responsibility for some of the most gruesome attacks. He mocked at TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah’s rise as the group’s leader through a draw and accused him of forcibly marrying his mentor Maulvi Soofi Mohammad’s daughter. This and his call for TTP, JuA ranks to give up arms and return to peaceful life led many to believe that the security establishment could be rehabilitating him much like the Punjabi Taliban ameer Commander Asmatullah Moavia, who had been granted amnesty by the Pakistani establishment. Amidst calls for his immediate trial, there is no word from the military authorities if Ehsanullah would be tried for the crimes whose responsibility he had claimed.
On September 21, 2017, the Pakistani defence ministry had requested the Peshawar High Court to dismiss a petition filed against the federal government’s alleged plan to give clemency to Ehsanullah Ehsan, sayinghis interrogation was still underway. In a written response to the petition of an Army Public School Peshawar student’s father, the defence ministry told the bench consisting of Chief Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Nasir Mehfooz that it would handle the issue of Ehsanullah in line with the law. The bench was hearing the petition of Fazal Khan, father of one of many Army Public Schools Peshawar students, who were killed by the Taliban militants during the 2014 attack on campus.
Interestingly, Ehsanullah is the third Taliban spokesman who is in the military’s custody. Former TPP spokesman Moulvi Umer and TTP Swat spokesman Muslim Khan are already in the military authorities’ custody. Ehsanullah had also been spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan before he was sacked by Mullah Fazlullah on June 25, 2013.Being the Jamaatul Ahraar’s chief spokesman, Ehsan had claimed responsibility for dozens of terrorist acts in Pakistan which killed hundreds. Ehsanullah, had been active in media, especially using social media’s various sites. Being much fond of sharing his pictures on social media, he most often used to send friendships offers to journalists. Sometimes, he used to talk to them on phone too.
Coming back to Jamaatul Ahraar and Omar Khalid Khorasani, the US State Department had added the TTP JuAto its list of global terrorist organizations on August 3, 2016, accusing it of involvement in numerous deadly attacks inside Pakistan which were conducted with the help ofthe Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.Almost a year later, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) slapped sanctions on the TTP JuAon July 8, 2017. The UNSC tagging of the group was prompted by the release of a TTP JuAvideo announcing the launch of “Operation Ghazi” in the honor of the Lal Masjid fame Maulana Ghazi Abdul Rasheed who was killed in the July 2007 operation by the Pakistan Army. Three days after the release of the video message, a suicide bomber ripped through the camp of protesting chemists in front of the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore on The Mall (on February 13, 2017), leaving 15 people dead, including 10 policemen.
Before carrying out the February 2017 suicide attack on The Mall, the JUA had claimed responsibility for the March 26, 2016 suicide bombing at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore which killed at least 73 persons. Before that, the Jamaatul Ahraar had claimed responsibility for the August 16, 2015 killing of the Punjab home minister, Colonel (Retd) Shuja Khanzada, at his home in Attock. The group said the assassination was revenge for the killing of Malik Ishaq, the founding leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who was gunned down by Pakistani police in July 2015. The then Jamaatul Ahraar’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had claimed credit for the suicide bombing that killed Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada and 16 other people in the city of Attock.
To tell the truth, Khorasani was a staunch follower of the al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden. In a video interview on June 6, 2011, he had described Zawahiri as the supreme leader of the Pakistani Taliban, although the latter had not yet been named as Osama’s successor by that time. Khorasani had been deeply active in the propaganda machine of the Tehrik-e-Taliban since the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, being a vocal supporter of al-Qaeda. Sitting with a pistol strapped to his waist and flanked by two of his comrades with AK-47 assault rifles, Khorasani had said in his June 6, 2011 interview with Reuters: “We will take revenge of Osama’s death from the Pakistan government, its security forces, the ISI, the CIA and the Americans. They are now on our hit list. The death of Osama will not demoralize the Taliban. It had in fact, injected a new courage into our fighters. The ideology given to us by Osama and the spirit and courage that he gave to us to fight infidels of the world is alive. Our war against America is continuing inside and outside of Pakistan. Our attacks will prove that we can hit the American targets outside Pakistan”.
In video message released on jehadi websites on March 20, 2012 by the Omar Studios, Khorasani said that the Taliban seek to overthrow the Pakistani government, impose Islamic Shariah as the supreme law of the land, seize the country’s nuclear weapons, and wage jehad until the Caliphate is established across the world. He further said: “We aim to counter the Pakistani government, its intelligence agencies, as well its army, which are against Islam and have oppressed the militants. The Taliban want to seize the Pakistani nuclear weapons and other resources, including the army, to defend Islam. Another objective is to use Pakistan’s military might including the nuclear bomb, army, and other resources, to guide other Muslim countries for the sake of Islam. Last but not the least, the Taliban will continue their fight even after taking over Pakistan, until global Caliphate is established”, he added.
As the government and the TTP were contemplating to initiate peace talks, Khorasani said in a statement on September 30, 2013: “Any peace talks under the Constitution of Pakistan were simply out of question. The government talks about the Constitution and the Taliban demand the enforcement of Shariah. Therefore, there cannot be a dialogue between the two. The Taliban will never backtrack even a single inch from their already stated demand of the enforcement of Shariah as the supreme law of the land, instead of the Constitution”.
Following Mullah Fazlullah’s selection as the new TTP ameer, Khorasani had said in a November 13, 2013 interview [conducted in Pushto]: “The track record of the Pakistani government and its armed forces has always been one of breaking their promises and trying to trick the Taliban. With their last trick, our leader, Commander Hakeemullah Mehsud was martyred. Therefore, it is obligatory for us to avenge his killing. We cannot imagine not taking revenge on this apostate Pakistani government. We will take our revenge by targeting the Pakistan army and the Pakistani politicians especially those in the government”.
When reminded by the interviewer that Hakeemullah was killed by a US drone and not by the Pakistan Army, Omar Khorasani said: “America is our enemy but we don’t blame it. Our real enemy is Pakistan. We will punish the authorities in Pakistan because they tricked us. The Americans have been our consistent enemy and have never changed their policy towards us. But Pakistan is an enemy which keeps changing colours. Had the Pakistan Army and the government not helped the Americans, they would not have been able to assassinate our ameer with the help of their drones. The Americans couldn’t have found him and killed him without their help. Therefore, we believe that America has not hurt us as badly as Pakistan has. That’s why we are battling against the state of Pakistan”.
In February 2014, Khorasani and his henchmen butchered 23 Pakistani paramilitary personnel who were captured during an attack on a check post in the tribal region in January 2014. The dreaded terrorist and his militia then played football with the heads of the slain soldiers besides filming this horrendous act. After the Pakistani security forces launched operation Zarb-e-Azab in the tribal belt of North Waziristan in June 2014, Khorasani had moved to Afghanistan, where he was finally droned by the American CIA on October 18, 2017.