In ongoing efforts to counter the threat of terrorism, the United States this week designated three senior al-Qaeda leaders and one Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader as Specially Designated Global Terrorists who “operate in Afghanistan”.
In a statement issued by the US State Department, Washington said: “The United States is committed to using its full set of counterterrorism tools to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).”
The State Department identified the individuals as Osama Mehmood, the emir of AQIS; Atif Yahya Ghouri, the deputy emir of AQIS; Muhammad Maruf, responsible for AQIS’ recruiting branch; and Qari Amjad, the deputy emir of TTP, who oversees operations and militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
“As a result of these actions, all property and interests in property of those designated yesterday that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and all US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them,” read the statement.
According to the statement, this week’s actions demonstrate that the US will continue to use all relevant tools to ensure that “international terrorists are not able to operate with impunity in Afghanistan”.
This latest development comes amid concerns among regional countries of a growing threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.
On Friday, Pakistan blamed a suicide bombing in Quetta the previous day on the TTP and called on the Taliban in Afghanistan to prevent terrorist attacks coming from their soil.
Islamabad blamed the attack, which killed at least four people, on Pakistani Taliban (TTP) fighters saying they are hiding across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said the latest claim by the TTP underlined the threat of Afghanistan turning into a haven for militants.
The four ‘terrorist’ leaders
Mehmood and Amjad (also known as Mufti Muzahim) are well-known figures in the jihadi scene, while there is little information publicly available on Ghouri and Maruf, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Long War Journal stated.
Mehmood took control of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent from the late Asim Umar, the group’s first emir, sometime before 2019 and is also known as Abu Zar, Atta Ullah, and Zar Wali. He is reportedly a Pakistani national and is believed to be sheltering in Afghanistan.
The Long War Journal reports that AQIS, which is based in Afghanistan, was formed in 2014 by former al-Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and his son-in-law, Uthamn Basha, and that AQIS serves as a bridge between a host of militant groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, and Bangladesh.
Basha was killed in a US drone strike in 2015 while Zawahiri was killed in a safe house in Kabul in July 2022.
Qari Amjad meanwhile is both the deputy emir of the TTP and the man who “oversees operations and militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province” in Pakistan, according to the US State Department.
This week, he released a statement ending the month’s long ceasefire with the Pakistani government and ordered TTP militants across Pakistan to “launch attacks anywhere in the country”.
The Long War Journal stated that Amjad is a Pakistani national who is believed to be sheltering in Dangam district in Kunar province.
Atif Yahya Ghouri and Muhammad Maruf are also Pakistani nationals and are thought to be based in Afghanistan.
The Long War Journal stated that al-Qaeda, the TTP, and the Afghan Taliban are all close allies and worked together to help the Afghan Taliban take over the country in 2021 and that the Afghan Taliban provides safe haven and support for both terrorist groups.
Afghanistan’s Taliban however, regularly reject claims of harboring terrorist groups.