Asim Umar, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), has been killed in a joint Afghan-US raid in Helmand, the Afghan intelligence agency said Tuesday.
He was killed with six other AQIS militants, including his courier to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a raid on a Taliban compound on September 23, the National Directorate of Security claimed.
The Taliban, however, rejected the Afghan government’s “claim” that Umar was killed during a raid in the Musa Kala district. “We categorically reject this claim by Kabul officials and consider it a part of the enemy’s fabricated propaganda.”
In September 2014, in a 55-minute video, al-Zawahiri had announced the establishment of AQIS. Umar was made his first commander.
AQIS under Umar claimed several attacks in Pakistan, including the 2014 one on a naval dockyard in Karachi.
However, his group suffered several blows after counter-terrorism agencies launched operations against terror outfits in 2016 and 2017.
Umar, himself, was hiding in Afghanistan.
In 2017, Umar, who is an Indian national, formed a new group called Ansarul Shariah in Pakistan, according to a counter-terrorism official in Karachi.
The outfit carried out at least four attacks in Karachi and one in Balochistan. It targeted members of law-enforcement agencies. The group was led by Hafiz Sheheryar.
Sheheryar and seven other members of his groups have been killed by law-enforcement agencies in Karachi.
The counter-terrorism official, who requested anonymity, told SAMAA Digital that Umar’s death hasn’t been independently confirmed. However, he said that his death won’t completely end Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. “A movement never ends,” the official said.
A source in Islamabad, who has links to militant circles, said, however, that the possibility of his death cannot be ruled out.
It’s a significant development, which will hurt not just AQIS but also Al-Qaeda, said Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
“Asim Umar was the first chief of AQIS after the Zawahiri-led AQ turned towards a regional franchising strategy,” Mir told SAMAA Digital.
However, he said that many questioned Asim Umar’s military and political acumen in Waziristan.
“Under his leadership, AQIS had more failed plots than successful attacks,” he said. “The most consequential near-miss that we know about was the attempt to take control of a Pakistan Navy frigate in 2014.”
Despite failing to mount operations, he was effective in keeping the group together politically and preventing it from splintering in the face of substantial US counterterrorism pressure, Mir added.
Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist, had met Umar twice in his career. In an event organized by the Indian Express in 2014, Mir said that he had first met Umar in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in 2005.
A taxi driver contacted me and said Emir sahab wants to meet you, Mir recalled. “He said don’t worry… don’t worry he will not harm you.”
The journalist said that Umar wanted him to cover an attack on the US that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were planning. But Mir said he declined the offer.
Mir’s second meeting with Umar took place in North Waziristan in 2007. He said that Umar was forced to leave Ghazni after he developed differences with local commanders. He was under protection of the Pakistani Taliban.
Some of his colleagues told me that they (the commanders) called him (Umar) an Indian spy, Mir added.
According to Mir, Umar belonged to Ahmedabad city of the Indian state of Gujrat. The Treasury Department, however, believed that Umar belonged to Uttar Pradesh.