Drone strike kills Al-Qaeda commander

Militant leader killed on March 19 in Afghanistan; allegedly plotted 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad

WASHINGTON • A commander of the Al-Qaeda 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, said Washington.

Qari Yasin, who had close links with Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (Pakistani Taleban), was killed on March 19 in eastern Paktika province, the Pentagon said on Saturday.

"The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice," United States Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.

Yasin, who went by several aliases, including Ustad Aslam, was accused of plotting the Sept 20, 2008 bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of people, including two US service members.

PAST ROLE

He was once a senior figure.

SECURITY ANALYST AMIR RANA, noting Yasin had been inactive in recent years after fleeing to Afghanistan.

JUSTICE SERVED

The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice.

US DEFENCE SECRETARY JIM MATTIS

He was also said to have been behind a 2009 attack in Lahore on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team 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 behind failed attempts to kill then president Pervez Musharraf in 2003 and then prime minister Shaukat Aziz in 2004.

The Pentagon described Yasin as being a native of Pakistan's south-western Balochistan region, but the country's records said he hailed from 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.

Others include 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," said Mr Rana, noting that Yasin had fallen inactive in recent years after fleeing to Afghanistan.

Islamabad and Kabul have long accused each other of harbouring militants who carry out attacks in each other's countries.

Taleban 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 Taleban effectively control or contest 10 of 14 districts in Helmand. The province has proved to be the deadliest 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 in training Afghan forces, in the latest sign that foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into the mounting conflict.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Drone strike kills Al-Qaeda commander'. Print Edition | Subscribe