Center for Strategic Communication

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Mullah Sangeen Zadran, from a Haqqani Network video that was released last year and urged Turks and Kurds to join the jihad in Afghanistan. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Haqqani Network, an al Qaeda allied Taliban subgroup that operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is said to have named Bilal Zadran to succeed Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a top commander who is thought to have been killed in a US drone strike in early September.

Bilal is said to have been named to succeed Mullah Sangeen as Sirajuddin Haqqani’s deputy during a “high level meeting of [the] Haqqani Network,” The Frontier Post reported. Mullah Sangeen, who was the Taliban’s shadow governor of Paktika and is on the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for supporting al Qaeda, is thought to have been killed in a US drone strike on Sept. 5 in the Ghulam Khan area of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

Neither the Haqqani Network nor al Qaeda has released official statements confirming or denying the reports of their deaths. Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network often do not announce the deaths of military commanders, and often delay the release of martyrdom statements by months or years. For instance, the Taliban confirmed the death of Badruddin Haqqani, a top Haqqani Network commander, one year after he was reported to have been killed in a drone strike.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal could not confirm Mullah Sangeen’s death, but they believe the reports of his death are “credible.” Tribal elders in North Waziristan claimed he was buried just one day after the drone strike that is said to have killed him.

“We believe that we got him,” one intelligence official said. “At some point, we expect he will be eulogized, given his prominence within the Haqqani Network and the Taliban, and due to his close relationship to al Qaeda.”

Bilal Zadran was appointed to succeed Mullah Sangeen “in a meeting duly attended by top commanders of Haqqani Network,” and chaired by Siraj, The Frontier Post reported.

The Pakistani newspaper said that Bilal, 35 years old and a nephew of Mullah Sangeen, “is said to have completed his master degree from Makkah [Mecca in Saudi Arabia] and can speak English fluently.” Top Haqqani Network leaders are known to travel to Saudi Arabia to fundraise for both the network and al Qaeda.

He served as a military commander in Khost province as well as a top spokesman for Mullah Omar before he was arrested in 2007, according to Allvoices. He is said to have been among the more than 400 hundred Taliban fighters and commanders who escaped from a prison in Kandahar City in Afghanistan during a complex, coordinated jailbreak in 2012.

According to The Frontier Post, Bilal is also said to be a “master of explosives” and a “hard core Jihadi commander.”