A former Pakistani special forces officer has emerged as al Qaeda’s most dangerous field commander in charge of a network of deep-cover agents in Europe who has had contact with an American terror suspect, Western intelligence officials say.
Meet Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, the jihadist network’s new chief of operations who is thought to have masterminded the 2008 paramilitary raid on Mumbai.
Last month, the U.S. government added him to its list of designated terrorists that includes top al Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, still thought to be the No. 1 and No. 2 al Qaeda leaders. Kashmiri is a top target for the U.S. military and CIA field operatives around the world.
“Ilyas Kashmiri is clearly in the tradition of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, he is the heir to the position of global operational commander for al Qaeda,” said Frances Townsend, White House director of homeland security during President George W. Bush's administration.
Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA officer, said: “He certainly has to be regarded today as one of the top operational commanders of al Qaeda. Because of his connections in Pakistan, he brings capabilities that probably no one else has. Paramilitary experience, connections to the Pakistani army and the Pakistani intelligence service, he knows where the bodies are.”
Kashmiri has been on the radar of the United States for the past few years. In 2009, the CIA thought it had killed Kashmiri in a drone strike in northwestern Pakistan. But the al Qaeda commander granted an interview to the Asia Times in October of that year in which he boasted that the rumors of his demise were false.
More recently, Kashmiri has emerged as a top threat to the West because of his connection to David Coleman Headley, an American arrested on terrorism charges in October for his role in helping to plot the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and conspiring to attack Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published in 2005 cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
WATCH: BEDBUGS ATTACK NIKETOWN