US air strike in Afghanistan killed senior Qaeda leader
A senior Al-Qaeda commander linked to major attacks in Pakistan including the bombing of a luxury hotel and an assault on a cricket team has been killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan, Washington said Saturday.
Qari Yasin, a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group (Pakistani Taliban), was killed on March 19 in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province, the Pentagon said.
“The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.
Yasin, who went by several aliases including Ustad Aslam, was accused of plotting the September 20, 2008 bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of people, including two US servicemembers.
He was also said to have been behind a 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore that killed six Pakistani police officers and two civilians, and wounded six members of the team.
According to official Pakistani ‘Most Wanted’ lists he was also behind failed attempts to kill former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 and former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in 2004.
The Pentagon described him as being a native of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan region, though Pakistani records said he hailed from the country’s populous Punjab province.
Security analyst Amir Rana said Yasin was the latest in a series of Pakistani militant fugitives to have been killed across the border in Afghanistan, including Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a former close associate of Mullah Omar, who died in a clash with Afghan security forces in January.
“He was once a senior figure and one of the Pakistani Taliban’s few non-Pashtun leaders,” said Rana, but added that Yasin had fallen inactive in recent years after fleeing to Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have long accused each other of habouring militants who carry out attacks in each others’ countries.
Taliban fighters on Thursday captured Afghanistan’s strategic southern district of Sangin, where US and British forces had suffered heavy casualties before it was handed over to Afghan personnel.
The Taliban effectively control or contest 10 of 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and US troops over the past decade, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency.
The Pentagon has said it would deploy some 300 Marines this spring to Helmand, where American forces had engaged in heated combat until they pulled out in 2014.
The Marines will assist a NATO-led mission to train Afghan forces, in the latest sign that foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into the mounting conflict.
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