The US Treasury Department has added an al Qaeda explosives expert who once served as the commander of the terror group’s military committee to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The al Qaeda operative is based in Pakistan and supports the operations of al Qaeda’s “paramilitary brigades” against Coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Today the US added ‘Abd al Hamid al Masli, described as a “key improvised explosive device (IED) facilitator,” to the list for “for acting for or on behalf of al Qaeda,” Treasury stated in its press release announcing the designation. Al Masli is from Danar, Libya and is based somewhere in “Waziristan,” a reference to Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.
According to Treasury, al Masli “is the leader of an AQ [al Qaeda] electronics and explosives workshop in Pakistan, which is responsible for producing IED components for AQ senior leadership.”
“From 2011 through 2012, al-Masli’s workshop provided AQ paramilitary brigades in Afghanistan with timers, circuits, mines, and remote control devices for use in IEDs,” Treasury continued. “Al Masli has also instructed AQ recruits on how to build detonators and, as of 2009, was personally in charge of IED component construction at the AQ electronics workshop.”
Treasury also stated that al Masli “was part of AQ’s military committee” beginning in mid-2011, and that he temporarily led the committee in 2010. Al Qaeda’s military committee directs the terror group in waging war against local Muslim governments as well as its external operations, or attacks directed at the West.
He likely took command of al Qaeda’s military committee after Abdullah Said was killed in a US drone strike sometime in late 2009 or early January 2010.
Al Qaeda “paramilitary brigades” and the Shadow Army
The mention of al Qaeda’s “paramilitary brigades” is clearly a reference to the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army. The Shadow Army is known to have at least six brigades operating in the Afghan-Pakistan region. The paramilitary unit fields forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instructions for battling security forces in local insurgencies as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks. [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’ from February 2009.]
The Shadow Army receives support from a host of Taliban groups in the region, including the Afghan Taliban, the Mullah Nazir Group, Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s Taliban faction, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, as well as a plethora of Pakistani terror groups such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiban, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The commanders of some of these groups, such as Ilyas Kashmiri (HUJI) and Badr Mansoor (HuM), and Farman Shinwari, have risen to top leadership positions within al Qaeda’s Shadow Army.
The US has targeted and killed several of the Shadow Army’s top leaders in drone strikes in Pakistan. Among those killed were Abu Laith al Libi, Abdullah Said al Libi, and Ilyas Kashmiri, the former emirs of the Shadow Army.
Two Shadow Army brigade commanders are also known to have been killed in drone strikes. In February 2012, US drones killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a strike in Miramshah, North Waziristan. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border, and linked up members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with al Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. Before his death, he was promoted to lead al Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas [see LWJ reports, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan and Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader].
And in December 2010, US drones killed Ibn Amin, a dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda military commander who operated in the Swat Valley, in a strike in the Tirah Valley in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal agency. Amin commanded the Shadow Army’s Tora Bora Brigade.