DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – A top al-Qaida commander and possible replacement for Osama bin Laden was killed in an American drone-fired missile strike close to the Afghan border, the militant group he heads and a Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday.
Ilyas Kashmiri's death is another blow to al-Qaida just over a month after bin Laden was killed by American commandos in a northwest Pakistani army town. Described by U.S. officials as al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan, he was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused in a string of bloody attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai massacre.
His death was not confirmed publicly by the United States or Pakistani officials. Verifying who has been killed in the drone strikes is difficult. Initial reports have turned out to be wrong in the past, or are never formally denied or confirmed by authorities here or in the United States.
But a fax from the militant group he was heading — Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami's feared "313 Brigade" — confirmed Kashmiri was "martyred" in the strike at 11:15 p.m. Friday in South Waziristan tribal region. It vowed revenge against America.
The Pakistani official also said Kashmiri was among nine militants killed in the strike. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with his agency's policy.
Kashmiri's name was on a list of militants that the United States and Pakistan recently agreed to jointly target, officials have said. The successful strike could help repair ties between the two countries that were badly damaged by the unilateral American raid, especially if Islamabad helped provide intelligence leading up to the attack.
The 47-year-old Pakistani, said to be blind in one eye and missing a finger, was one of the country's most accomplished — and vicious — militants. He was so close to al-Qaida's central command that he had been mentioned as a contender for replacing bin Laden.
Indian officials have alleged he was involved in the 2008 Mumbai siege that killed more than 160 people. He has also been named a defendant in an American court over a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
Kashmiri has most recently been linked to last month's 18-hour assault on a naval base in Karachi. He is also accused of masterminding several bloody raids on Pakistan police and intelligence buildings in 2009 and 2010, as well as a failed assassination attempt against then-President Pervez Musharraf in 2003.
The U.S Department of State says he organized a 2006 suicide bombing against the U.S. consulate in Karachi that killed four people, including an American diplomat.
In September 2009, officials said Kashmiri was believed to have been killed in a drone strike. The report turned out to be wrong. The United States does not acknowledge firing the missiles, though its officials have confirmed the death of high-value targets before.