Friday 2 October 2009

Uzbek Islamist leader killed in Pakistan drone attack

The Pakistani military is confirming that Tahir Yuldashev, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was killed in a drone attack in South Waziristan on 27 August. His death has only just come to light because his followers have tried to keep it a secret.
In the attack US Predator drones fired three missiles at a house in the scenic Kanigoram Valley. At least eight people were killed and another six sustained serious injuries. The attack came only weeks after another US drone attack killed Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud.
Yuldashev is said to have been Mahsud's mentor and to have provided him with an Uzbek bodyguard. His death will be a blow to the thousands of Uzbeks who are living in Waziristan, particularly around the town of Mir Ali.
Two weeks ago Najmiddin Kamolitdinovic Jalolov, the leader of another Uzbek group based in Waziristan, the Islamic Jihad Union, was reportedly killed, also in a US drone missile strike.
As well as being the leader of the IMU, Yuldashev was close to al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Dr Ayman Zawahiri. He brought with him a tough and disciplined fighting force, skilled fighters known for their bravery and ruthlessness. It is Uzbeks who have been responsible for killing the traditional tribal maliks and khans in the border areas as a way of increasing the influence of al-Qaeda.
Yuldashev was co-founder of the IMU, along with Juma Namangani, who was killed in 2001 following the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. He is thought to have been one of the thousands of fighters who were flown out of Kunduz by the Pakistan airforce in November 2001 following a secret agreement with the Americans. In 2004 he was surrounded by Pakistani forces, but managed to escape after his fighters put up a determined resistance.
Yuldashev's death has been reported before on many occasions, only for him to surface and deny the reports. But there are clear indications that this time he may be dead: he has always quickly denied such reports and nor did he issue his traditional address to the faithful during the recent Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
Three days ago, a caller to Radio Ozodlik in Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley said he was calling from Pakistan and that he was Yuldashev's bodyguard. The "bodyguard" refused to identify himself and asked not to broadcast his voice on air, claiming that he feared for his life. He added that as well as Yuldashev, several important field commanders had also been killed at the same time.
He also said that an ethnic Tatar from Russia called Abdurakhman had become the new leader of the IMU. Presumably this is Zubair Ibn Abdurakhman, 40, who was IMU spokesman and deputy head of the organisation.
Update: Pakistani newspapers are now reporting that the new leader of the IMU is Qari Usman Jan, an Uzbek who has been a senior commander within the organisation for several years. Jan mediated between the IMU and local tribesmen in 2007 when fighting broke out in South Waziristan between the two groups. The papers say that Yuldashev died in in a private hospital in Zhob, Baluchistan where he had been taken after the bombing raid in which he lost an arm and a leg.
Further Update (22 Jan 2010): The German newspaper Die Welt reported on 12 January that Yuldashev had appeared in a new video, suggesting that he had not been killed in the airstrike. He is quoted as saying
“We must rid the world of infidels. There are no limits for us. Our goal is to take over not only Afghanistan and Pakistan but the whole world and re-establish a caliphate as Allah commanded”. “Last year, we lost many of our brothers. But their deaths went to a good cause. Our main goal is the establishment of a caliphate and we must sacrifice everything to reach it,” he added.

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