The US State Department has added the emir of the Mullah Nazir Group, a Taliban subgroup based in South Waziristan that supports al Qaeda, to the list of terrorists. Pakistani military and government officials considers the Mullah Nazir Group to be “good Taliban,” despite the group’s historical support of al Qaeda and attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Bahawal Khan, the leader of the Mullah Nazir Group (or Commander Nazir Group), was added today by the State Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Khan, who is also known as Salahuddin Ayubi, was named the emir of the group after his predecessor, Mullah Nazir, was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in early January 2013 [see LWJ report, Taliban name Mullah Nazir’s replacement].
Khan “served as a sub-commander for [the Mullah Nazir Group] in South Waziristan and has fought with the Taliban since the late 1990s,” State said in a press release announcing the designation today.
Khan is closely allied with al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and a plethora of terrorist groups in the area, US intelligence officials who track groups in the region told The Long War Journal after his appointment as emir of the Mullah Nazir Group.
In today’s press release, the State Department highlighted the Mullah Nazir Group’s support for al Qaeda and its participation in the jihad in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Khan and [the Mullah Nazir Group] have vowed to continue the group’s activities, including supporting al Qaeda and conducting attacks in Afghanistan,” State reported.
“Since 2006, [the Mullah Nazir Group] has run training camps, dispatched suicide bombers, provided safe haven for al Qaeda fighters, and conducted cross-border operations in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies,” State said. “In addition to its attacks against international forces in Afghanistan, [the Mullah Nazir Group] is also responsible for assassinations and intimidation operations against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
State linked the group to a 2008 suicide car bombing at an army brigade headquarters in Zari Noor, South Waziristan, and to an attack on a Pakistani Army camp in Wana in 2011.
On Feb. 26, the State Department added the Mullah Nazir Group to the list of organizations that supports terrorist groups; State also added Malang, a subcommander, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists at the same time.
Prior to his death in the January drone strike, Nazir was due to be added to the US’s list of terrorists, Jason Blazakis, the Director of State’s Office of Terrorist Designations and Sanctions, told The Long War Journal.
“We started the process of designating Mullah Nazir in 2012,” Blazakis said. “The initial plan was to sanction him at the same time we designated the Commander Nazir Group and Malang Wazir. Mullah Nazir died before we were able to finalize his designation under E.O. 13224.”
Background on the Mullah Nazir Group
Mullah Nazir was been an influential Taliban commander and had ties to numerous terrorist groups operating in the region, including al Qaeda, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and the plethora of Pakistani and Central Asia jihadist groups operating in the region. He had openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and waged jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization.
In June 2012, Nazir banned polio vaccinations in his areas, and claimed that the program is being used by the US to gather intelligence and conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas. His action followed that of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, another so-called “good Taliban” leader, who shut down the program in North Waziristan earlier that month.
Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have considered Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state and wage jihad only in Afghanistan. The government has negotiated several peace deals with Nazir and his group. Yet Nazir continued to provide safe have to top al Qaeda leaders and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, despite agreeing not to do so.
Several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, have been killed while being sheltered by Nazir. [For more information on Nazir and al Qaeda leaders killed while under his protection, see LWJ reports, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, and US drones kill ‘good’ Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
The Mullah Nazir Group is one of four major Taliban groups that joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda in late 2011. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; the Haqqani Network; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.