One-eyed Ilyas Kashmiri is ‘one of the world’s most dangerous men’

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Counter-terrorism officials on three continents consider Ilyas Kashmiri, leader of an anti-India Pakistani terror group, as one of the most dangerous men in the world, according to CNN.

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Kashmiri considers India his number one enemy. His group was thought responsible for the bombing of a bakery popular with foreigners in Pune in 2009. But there is plenty of evidence he has ambitions beyond South Asia, the US TV channel said.

“He has one eye, a thick beard streaked with henna and has lost a finger. He wears thick aviator-style dark glasses,” it said Wednesday citing sources. There are very few photographs of 40-something.

As commander of “Brigade 313,” part of Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami (Movement for an Islamic Holy War), he formed a close relationship with Al Qaeda in the wild frontier territory of Pakistan.

Now intelligence sources on both sides of the Atlantic believe Kashmiri is trying to get teams into Europe that would launch coordinated Mumbai-style attacks in several cities, CNN said.

There are plenty of foreign fighters in the Pakistani tribal territories — as many as 10,000 according to a Pakistani military commander.

One of them, Ahmed Sidiqi, was detained in Kabul last July and interrogated by US forces at the Bagram Airfield. According to European counter-terrorism sources cited by CNN, Sidiqi said he had met Kashmiri, though there is no confirmation that he did.

Another man alleged to have sought out Kashmiri is Chicago taxi driver Raja Lahrasib Khan, who travelled to Pakistan in 2008 and 2009, CNN said. He was arrested this year in the United States and charged with attempting to provide support to Al Qaeda.

Intelligence officials cited by CNN say that besides being an experienced operator, Kashmiri has also managed to navigate the often perilous waters of jihadist rivalries, attracting members of other Pakistani groups to his “313 Brigade” and retaining a measure of autonomy despite pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda.

If Osama bin Laden is Al Qaeda’s “spiritual” leader and Egyptian cleric Ayman al Zawahiri its philosopher, Kashmiri is the organization’s military brain, they say.

As one US official cited by CNN put it recently, Kashmiri is “the key ingredient in the bad stew of senior terrorists who are planning operations in the region and beyond.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])