Islamabad: The US and Pakistan appear to have differences over the reported death of al Qaeda terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri in a drone strike, even as it emerged that a photo purportedly showing the commander after his death was that of a militant killed during the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik said yesterday they had received confirmation of Kashmiri’s death in a US drone strike in South Waziristan on June 3. “As far as the death of Ilyas Kashmiri is concerned, America has confirmed that his death occurred on Friday,” Gilani told reporters in Quetta yesterday.
Malik told the media outside parliament yesterday that he could “confirm… 100 per cent that he (Kashmiri) is dead”. However, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington that he had “no confirmation” of Kashmiri’s death when he was asked about Gilani’s remarks. “I both have no comment and no way of confirming his death,” Toner said in response to a flurry of questions at a news briefing.
Diplomatic sources in Islamabad too said there was no confirmation of Kashmiri’s death in the drone attack near Wana town of South Waziristan, that reportedly killed nine militants, including several from Punjabi Taliban. Meanwhile it was revealed that a photograph purporting to show Kashmiri after his death – which was posted along with a statement from Kashmiri’s group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami on the Shamukh al-Islam jihadist Internet forum – was actually a picture of Abu Dera Ismail Khan, a Lashkar-e-Taiba member killed in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Kashmiri, 46, has a thick beard and is missing an eye that was lost while fighting in the Afghan jihad. The photo released by HuJI shows a man who too appears to be missing an eye but is clean-shaven.
Websites that track jihadist forums, including the SITE Intelligence Group and the Long War Journal, checked the photo and soon discovered it was that of Abu Dera Ismail Khan, a resident of Dera Ismail Khan who was killed by Indian security forces while travelling in a car with Ajmal Kasab, the only Mumbai attacker to be captured alive.
Arif Rafiq, editor of The Pakistan Policy Blog, also pointed out that the Urdu statement issued on June 4 about Kashmiri’s reported death had misspelt the HuJI’s name twice.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they could not confirm if Kashmiri was killed in the drone strike.
The officials said the discrepancies with the photo and the HuJI statement “make it difficult to determine whether Kashmiri was actually killed or if he survived the strike”.
One official said: “We can’t go in there; we don’t have DNA to test”.
A video released on the Internet that purportedly shows the bodies of those killed in the June 3 drone strike being prepared for burial too leaves many questions unanswered.