On June 3, Al Qaeda posted this announcement:
On behalf of Harkat Jihad al-Islami 313 Brigade we confirm the fact that our leader and Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, has been martyred in an American drone attack at 11:15 on June 3, 2011 and Insha Allah (God Willing) the present pharaoh America will see our full revenge very soon. Our only target is America.
(Harkat ul Jihad al-Islami) 313 Brigade,
But according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources, the conviction is growing in Western intelligence, including the CIA, that Ilyas Kashmir survived the US drone strike on the village of Ghawa Khawa about 20 kilometers south of the South Waziristan district center and decided to fake his death.
This is attested to by four pieces of evidence:
1. Intelligence input since the attack affirms that Kashmiri was away from South Waziristan at the time of the attack;
2. The US missiles struck outside a home where a group of Islamic militants including Taliban were meeting. However, Kashmiri never took part in meetings attended by Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, i.e., low-ranking operatives. He only turned up for high-ranking commanders of Taliban special forces or other jihadist organizations when they met before embarking on operations which he had planned.
3. Harkat Jihad al-Islami released a photo purporting to be of the dead Kashmiri. Close examination proves it to be of someone else, probably one of the victims of the US missile attack.
4. Another conviction gaining credence with Western intelligence agencies is that the abduction on May 29 of the Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was tortured and executed that day, was part of a Brigade 313 smokescreen to disguise Kashmiri's whereabouts.
The Pakistani journalist who paid for knowledge with his life
Shahzad was celebrated for his profound inside knowledge and close contacts with Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Two days before he was snatched, he wrote an article in which he reported that Al Qaeda conducted the May 23 attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi to avenge the arrest of naval officials on suspicion of al Qaeda links. The attack, he reported, was the work of Ilyas Kashmiri.
The journalist's abductors grilled him first to find out who much he knew about the attack, Kashmiri's whereabouts and, most of all, his sources.
Shahzad's book, Inside Al Qaeda & the Taliban, Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, was published a week after his death. One of his revelations was that Kashmiri, who planned the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attack, gave the Pakistani Inter-Service-Intelligence agency, ISI, an advance tip that a small-scale operation was about to take place in the Indian city.
He wrote: "With Ilyas Kashmiri's immense expertise in Indian operations, he stunned Al-Qaeda leaders with the suggestion that expanding the war theatre was the only way to overcome the present impasse. He presented the suggestion of conducting such a massive operation in India as to bring India and Pakistan to war and with that all proposed operations against Al-Qaida would be brought to a grinding halt. Al Qaeda excitedly approved the proposal for an Indian attack.
Ilyas Kashiri then handed the plan over to a very able former army major, Haroon Ashik, who was also a former LeT [Lashkar e-Taiba] commander who was still very close with the LeT chiefs Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and Abu Hamza.
Haroon knew about a plan by Pakistan's ISI that had been in the pipelines for several months with the official policy to drop it as it was to have been a low-profile routine proxy operation in India through LeT.
The former army major, with the help of Ilyas Kashmiri's men in India, hijacked the ISI plan and turned it into the devastating attacks that shook Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008 and brought Pakistan and India to the brink of war."
Kashmiri's key man in India was David Coleman Headley
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter terror sources report: The writer Shahzad was so deeply immersed in his researches into the labyrinthine workings of al Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence that he failed to pinpoint Kashmiri's key man in India, the one who helped him set up the Mumbai attack. Otherwise, it is hard to explain how the journalist, an expert on Kashmiri, never identified David Coleman Headley, whose real name is Daood Sayed Gilani.
A Chicago-based Pakistani-American, Headley conspired with LeT and Pakistani military officers to carry out the Mumbai attacks. He was arrested at O'Hara international airport in Chicago in October 2009 on his way to Pakistan.
For the past two weeks, Headley, alias Gilani, has been testifying before a 12-man federal jury in Chicago in the terror case against Chicagoan Tahawwur Rana. He disclosed how he acted as Kashmiri's spotter for picking targets for terrorist attacks in Mumbai and other Indian cities. Headley's evidence confirmed that he was in contact with Pakistani intelligence.
This complicated trial presents certain problems for America's reputed war on terror and how much its counter-terror agencies knew about Kashmiri. Headley agreed to turn state evidence in the Chicago trial in return for a guarantee that he would not sentenced to death or extradited to India or Pakistan for traveling to Pakistan only two months after the 9/11 attacks on America.
Hired as spotter by the US DEA – and al Qaeda
His first trips were for undercover surveillance operations on behalf of the US Drug Enforcement Administration – once in 2001 and three times in 2002. Then, in 2003, he attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan.
Headley's association with American intelligence bodies therefore goes back a decade during which overlapped with his services for the al Qaeda-linked LeT. The CIA and FBI had a hard time parrying Indian suspicions that he was a double agent who, while employed by Washington served Ilyas Kashmiri's Brigade 313 and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
New Delhi maintained that the US must have had advance knowledge of the Mumbai outrage but did not warn India so as not to blow the intelligence asset it had planted within al Qaeda and its branches.
There is no doubt that David Coleman Headley is as well-informed about Kashmiri as was Syed Saleem Shahzad. Headley is alive because he has American protection; Shahzan died because he lost the protection of Pakistani intelligence. It must be assumed that Ilyas Kashmiri is also still alive and as dangerous as ever.