Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pakistan Releases Top Al Qaeda-linked Terrorist Leader

Via The Long War Journal (Jan 4, 2011) -

A senior Pakistani terrorist linked to al Qaeda and the country's intelligence service has been released from "protective custody."

Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), was released in early December after being taken into protective custody in August 2010. HUJI is closely linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander for HUJI, also serves as al Qaeda's military commander and is a senior leader on al Qaeda's external operations council. HUJI is also supported by Pakistan's military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Akhtar's release was first reported in The News on Dec. 28, 2010. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that they believe the report is accurate.

Pakistani intelligence officials took Akhtar into custody in August after he was supposedly wounded in a US Predator strike in North Waziristan, The News reported.


A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that it is thought that Akhtar was was not arrested, but "placed in protective custody so he can be treated for his injuries and debriefed."

Akhtar was placed into custody at the same time that five Americans who were recruited by the HUJI leader were convicted in a Pakistani court of attempting join al Qaeda to carry out attacks for the terror network. The five Americans were recruited by Akhtar via the Internet and traveled to Pakistan in November 2009. They were arrested by police in Sargodha before they could travel to North Waziristan to join al Qaeda. [See LWJ report, Top al Qaeda leader linked to 5 Americans on trial in Pakistan.]

Another US intelligence official said that the timing of Akhtar's detention and the conviction of the five American jihadis was "no coincidence."

"Pakistan's ISI often brings in its top assets when the heat is turned up; they are placed in safehouses to avoid being targeted, or to get them out of the limelight," the official told The Long War Journal.

"This has happened in the recent past, with LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] emir Hafiz Saeed and JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammed] emir Masood Azhar after Mumbai in 2008," the official said, referring to the deadly terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed more than 170 people.

Both Saeed and Azhar were identified by the Indian government as being involved in the Mumbai attacks. Both were placed under house arrest and freed months later by the Pakistani government.

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